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

4. Results (cont'd)

4.4 Have the effects of intimacy changed over time?

So far, the analysis has demonstrated that intimacy does appear to matter in criminal justice decision-making, in particular, at the earlier stages of the criminal process. Moreover, criminal justice responses to violent crime have changed somewhat over time. However, as discussed earlier, many of the legislative and policy changes during the past 30 years have specifically targeted the way intimate violence is treated within the criminal justice system. Therefore, it may be that the role of intimacy in criminal law has changed over time as a result. To examine this, the treatment of accused persons who killed intimate partners is compared to the treatment of those who killed non-intimate partners in three separate time periods that parallel significant changes in law and/or policy as discussed above.[34]

Table 4.9 shows bivariate patterns for the three time periods, demonstrating that there have been some changes in the role of intimacy in criminal law over time. First, between and including 1974 and 1983 - that period of time before any significant legislative and/or policy changes occurred - accused persons who killed intimate partners were significantly less likely to be charged with first-degree murder (26 percent compared to 37 percent) and significantly less likely to be convicted of the more serious charge of murder (21 percent compared to 40 percent) than accused persons in cases of non-intimate partner homicide. In contrast, these differences were not evident in the second period - 1984 to 1996 - after pro-charging and pro-prosecution policies were implemented. In fact, during this period, those who killed intimate partners were now significantly more likely to be convicted of murder than those who killed non-intimate partners (50 percent compared to 37 percent, respectively).

Table 4.9: Bivariate Associations for Type of Homicide and Criminal Justice Outcomes for Three Time Periods, Reduced Sample, Toronto, 1974-2002

Some other changes at the bivariate level were also evident in the later periods of the study. For example, while there were no differences in the rate at which the two types of accused were found guilty at trial in the early period, accused persons in intimate partner homicide cases were more likely to receive a verdict of 'guilty' in the second period than those who killed non-intimate partners (78 percent compared to 64 percent respectively). With respect to the overall likelihood of conviction, while there was no difference in treatment between the two types of accused in the early period, both the second and third time period show that accused persons who killed intimate partners were significantly more likely to be convicted overall than those charged with killing non-intimate partners (90 percent compared to 80 percent between 1984 and 1996; 90 percent compared to 70 percent between 1997 and 2002).

Again, however, it is important to control for other factors when isolating the independent effects of intimacy in criminal law over time. In this part of the analysis, because of the small number of cases in the latter period, the second and third period are collapsed together so the later time period now covers 1984 to 2002. This more recent period is compared to the earlier period of the study - 1974 to 1983. Table 4.10 demonstrates that, when other factors are controlled, the role of intimacy in criminal law has changed over time, but the patterns are different than that found in the bivariate analysis. For example, at the initial charging stage, when control variables were introduced, there were no longer any differences in the treatment of the two types of accused in the severity of the charge laid. However, when looking at whether the case was sent to trial, results show that accused persons in cases of intimate partner homicide were less likely to have their cases sent to trial (i.e. they were more likely to plead guilty) than accused persons in non-intimate partner homicides in both periods. Of those cases sent to trial, accused persons in intimate partner homicides were more likely to be found guilty at trial compared to those who killed non-intimate partners in the more recent period (see Box 6).

Box 6. Accused persons who stood trial: Convicted on reduced charge

Case #9425

Fishermen found the female victim's beaten and strangled body in the river. There were slash wounds to her hands and cuts to her legs and vaginal area. A witness testified that he saw the male accused stuffing the body of a woman into the trunk of his car, parked outside the balcony of the victim's apartment. It was alleged that the accused and the victim had taken out joint insurance policies on one another. They were apparently going to go into business together when she returned from her home country where she was to be married one week after her body was found. The accused was charged with first-degree murder, but found guilty at trial of second-degree murder and sentenced to 16 years in prison.

Case 8311

The female victim and her brother were approached by the male accused outside a tavern where he accused them of stealing an item of jewelry from his girlfriend. They argued about the alleged theft and a shoving match developed between the accused and the victim's brother. As the victim was trying to intervene between them, the accused pulled out a handgun and fired. The victim suffered a shot to the face. The accused fled after the shooting, but was later arrested. The accused claimed that she was not the intended victim. The accused was charged with first-degree murder, but he pleaded not guilty and his case was sent to trial. He was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to three years.

Case #8020

The male accused in this case stabbed the female victim 14 times in the laundry room of her apartment building where the brother of the accused also lived. The accused, armed with a butcher knife, allegedly had planned to rob the coin-operated washing machines in the public laundry room. It was here that he encountered the victim. The accused had recently been released from prison after serving a sentence for attempted murder. He allegedly had mental problems for which he had received some outpatient treatment. Physical evidence tied the accused to the killing. The accused was charged with first-degree murder, but found guilty at trial of second-degree murder and sentenced to the maximum 25 years' imprisonment before parole eligibility.

Case #7920

The female victim and the male accused had recently moved to Canada from Jamaica where they had been married. The accused had previously been in Canada on a visitor's permit, but he had returned to Jamaica three months before the killing to marry the victim. They were experiencing difficulty adjusting, on the day of the killing, they had been arguing over some immigration documents that they needed. The argument escalated and the accused brought out a knife. The victim's teenage daughter tried to intervene, but was unsuccessful, getting slashed in the process. The accused stabbed the victim 23 times then slashed his own throat, but his injuries were not fatal. Police were called to disarm the accused. Both the police who responded to the call and the victim's daughter witnessed the incident. The accused was charged with first-degree murder, but he pleaded not guilty. His case went to trial and he was found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to life and the minimum mandatory of 10 years.

Case #7850

Shortly after the female victim and the male accused were married, the accused apparently discovered that his wife did not love him and thought that she had only married him so he could sponsor her as a landed immigrant. They separated at this point and the accused proceeded to report the victim to the immigration authorities. On the day of the killing, the accused went to the victim's apartment in the hopes of reconciliation, but a fight broke out between them. He claims that the victim attacked him with a knife, but he disarmed her. She then struck him with a glass jug, they struggled and she was injured in the process. Evidence showed that she had been stabbed a dozen times. The accused later turned himself in to the police. The accused was charged with first-degree murder, but he pleaded not guilty to this charge. His case was sent to trial where he was found not guilty of murder, but guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to six years.

Case #9406

The female victim had just left her home and was walking to work early in the morning when she was chased down by the accused, her estranged husband. Using a rifle, he fired at the victim as she attempted to run away. She eventually fell to the ground. The accused approached the victim while she was lying on the ground, firing several more shots into her. In total, he shot the victim five times in the back of the head, in the arm and shoulder. After putting the rifle back in his car, the accused walked to the nearest house and asked them to call the police. He confessed as soon as the police arrived and was arrested. It was alleged that the accused had been stalking his ex-wife ever since their separation. The police were called on several occasions to the couple's home for domestic disputes, but the victim would not lay charges. The accused was charged with first-degree murder, but found guilty at trial of second-degree murder and sentenced to 15 years.

Case #9314

The female victim and the male accused had broken up a few months prior to the killing, but the accused owed the victim some money. They agreed to meet so he could repay the debt. The victim told her friend about the pre-arranged meeting, indicating that she was afraid of the accused and so she was only going to open her car window so he could put the money through to her. Later that day, the accused pulled up to a convenience store, shouting to employees that a stranger had stabbed himself and the victim as they were sitting in the car. The police were notified. The accused had superficial stomach wounds that were thought to be self-inflicted. The victim had suffered three stab wounds, one of which struck her heart. As she lay dying in the hospital, she told a nurse that the accused had stabbed her. The accused was charged with first-degree murder, but found guilty at trial of second-degree murder and sentenced to the minimum of 10 years imprisonment.

Table 4.10: Multivariate Analysis Examining Criminal Justice Outcomes by Type of Homicide for Three Time Periods, Reduced Sample, Toronto, Ontario, 1974-2002

When examining the overall likelihood of conviction in the more recent period, accused persons in cases of intimate partner homicide were more likely to be convicted overall than those in non-intimate partner homicides. With respect to severity of conviction, an examination of the early period shows that cases of intimate partner homicide were less likely to result in murder convictions than cases of non-intimate partner homicide. In the latter period, however, this difference in treatment is no longer evident. Consistent with the analysis of the entire time period, there were no differences in treatment at the sentencing stage in either the early or more recent periods.

In summary, upon examining the effect of intimacy in criminal law over time, it appears that there have been some changes in the treatment of accused persons in intimate partner homicide compared to non-intimate partner homicide. The key findings are as follows:

Case sent to trial

Accused persons in intimate partner homicides were less likely than accused persons in non-intimate partner homicides to have their cases resolved at trial in both periods. Put another way, guilty pleas appear to remain more common in cases of intimate partner homicides than in cases of non-intimate partner homicides.

Found guilty at trial

Of those cases resolved at trial, those accused of killing intimate partners 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.

Overall conviction

Given that accused persons in intimate partner homicides were more likely to plead guilty and more likely to be found guilty at trial than accused persons in non-intimate partner homicides, their likelihood of conviction overall was also greater than the comparison group in the more recent period.

Murder conviction

Accused persons in cases of intimate partner homicide were less likely to be convicted of murder in the early period of the study. However, this was not the case in the more recent period.


[34] One dependent variable - type of acquittal - is omitted from this analysis because there were too few cases for analysis.

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