Criminal Justice Outcomes in Intimate and Non-intimate Partner Homicide Cases

HIGHLIGHTS

  • From 1974 to 2002, there were 1,612 reported homicides in the City of Toronto. For the 1,324 solved homicides, 1,416 accused persons were identified and 1,137 were charged. Among this group of 1,137 accused persons, 230 (20 percent) were charged with killing an intimate partner and 907 (80 percent) were charged with killing victims with whom they shared more distant relationships.
  • During this period, 91 percent of the charges laid were for murder – 37 percent of those accused were charged with first-degree murder and 54 percent were charged with second-degree murder. In the remaining nine percent of the cases, eight percent of the accused were charged with manslaughter and one percent with other offences. Of those charged, 58 percent had their cases resolved at trial and 42 percent were resolved through guilty pleas. Of those resolved at trial, 60 percent of the accused were found guilty at trial and 40 percent were acquitted. Of those acquitted, 37 percent were found ‘not criminally responsible by reason of mental disorder.’ Overall, then, 76 percent of the 1,137 charged were convicted. Of those convicted, nine percent were convicted of first-degree murder, 30 percent were convicted of second-degree murder and 54 percent were convicted of manslaughter.
  • With respect to sentencing, 83 percent of those convicted were sentenced to a federal institution and the average sentence was approximately nine years. Of those convicted of manslaughter, the average sentence was 5.5 years and, of those convicted of second-degree murder for which the minimum mandatory sentence is 10 years, the average sentence was 12.5 years. All those convicted of first-degree murder are sentenced to 25 years before parole eligibility.
  • Comparing outcomes in cases of intimate and non-intimate partner homicide, different treatment was found at the following stages: initial prosecution charge, mode of conviction, verdict at trial and overall likelihood of conviction. Specifically, accused persons who killed intimate partners were significantly less likely to be charged with first-degree murder than those who killed non-intimate partners; cases that involved intimate partners were significantly less likely to be resolved at trial than cases involving non-intimate partners; of those cases resolved at trial, those accused of killing intimate partners were more likely to be found guilty at this stage than those accused of killing non-intimate partners; and, finally, accused persons who killed intimate partners were more likely to be convicted overall than accused persons who killed victims with whom they shared more distant relationships.
  • The treatment of these two types of homicide accused persons varied during the study period, however. Comparing two time periods that parallel changes in law and policy – 1974-1983 and 1984-2002 – accused persons were more likely to be found guilty at trial in the more recent period than those accused of killing non-intimate partners. This was not the case in the early period. Moreover, given that accused persons in intimate partner homicides were more likely to plead guilty overall and more likely to be found guilty at trial than accused persons in non-intimate partner homicides, they were also more likely to be convicted overall in the more recent period. Finally, while accused persons in cases of intimate partner homicide were less likely to be convicted of murder in the early period of the study, this was no longer the case in the more recent period.
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