Not criminally responsible ruling misunderstood: Gadhia
TORONTO — It’s “unfortunate” that some in the general public think a woman found not criminally responsible (NCR) for fatally stabbing a stranger “got off on a technicality” because that’s not the case, says Toronto criminal lawyer Roots Gadhia.
Justice John McMahon ruled that the woman, who pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, suffered from schizophrenia when she chose to target the victim in December 2015. The judge added that the accused was so severely mentally ill she didn’t know her actions were wrong.
McMahon said that due to the schizophrenia, she was incapable of knowing the killing was morally and legally wrong and that the tragic stabbing “can only be described as a senseless and motiveless killing.”
“It’s unfortunate that people think that she got off on a technicality or that she’s going to be a free woman after having committed murder,” Gadhia, principal of R. Roots Gadhia Criminal Defence Law, says in an interview with AdvocateDaily.com.
“People are clearly uninformed and unaware of how significant a finding of NCR is for someone. Instead of serving a sentence with a specific time, an NCR finding is indefinite and requires that the individual be under constant medical supervision for the rest of their life. It means being kept in a secure facility and constantly being evaluated to determine risk. That assessment can take years and sometimes be longer than an actual sentence may have been.”
Gadhia, who was not involved in the case and comments generally, says there is a lack of understanding that criminal law does not punish individuals if they did not intend to commit an offence.
“It’s hard for the general public to wrap their minds around the idea that someone who takes the life of another human being should not be punished if they didn’t at the time of the index offence know or understand what it was that they were doing,” Gadhia says, referencing one of her own cases in which a client was acquitted of manslaughter following a complex trial.
“It is a basic explanation of the concept of intent. You must intend the offence to be found guilty of it.”
In the case involving the stabbing, the 28-year-old victim died after the woman fatally wounded her at a Shoppers Drug Mart in Toronto’s financial district. Investigators found no prior link between the two women.
“The bizarre nature of this killing makes no sense on rational thought,” McMahon told the court as the victim’s mother and husband cried inside the packed courtroom.
McMahon said the accused will now be sent to a secure wing of a mental health hospital in Toronto until she has a hearing with the Ontario Review Board, which decides if and how not criminally responsible patients should be detained.
After the ruling, the victim’s family and friends took turns delivering victim impact statements in which they expressed their devastating loss.
“We prayed and asked God to switch places with her,” the victim’s mother told the court.
“I have anxiety attacks, and my heart is broken. My husband is not the same. (Our daughter) was his princess.”
At one point, McMahon told the woman’s weeping parents that he wished he had “some magic power” to bring their daughter back. The mother responded by urging the judge to tell his own children that he loved them.
Other friends and relatives spoke about their love for the victim, noting that she had married in August 2015, just months before her death.
The accused, 43, sat in silence throughout the proceedings.
Both Crown and defence lawyers had said she should be found not criminally responsible in the stabbing death.
A forensic psychiatrist, who was the only witness to testify at the one-day trial last week, concluded that the accused was in the throes of a psychiatric breakdown due to untreated schizophrenia at the time of the attack.
Court heard that a second psychiatrist agreed with that assessment and both reported that she suffered from severe hallucinations and delusions that manifested as a voice commanding her to harm someone.
The stabbing — which was captured on surveillance video — took place on Dec. 11, 2015, when the victim, an ultrasound technician, was at the drug store during a break from work.
The trial heard that the accused walked into the store just before 3 p.m., went straight up to the victim and stabbed her in the chest with a knife. She then placed the knife on a counter and walked out of the store.
The entire incident took about a minute.
The victim was rushed to a hospital, where she died four days later. That same day, police arrested the accused.Back to News