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

4. Results (cont'd)

4.5 Introducing gender: The separate and combined effects

While the key objective in this study is to examine the role of intimacy in criminal law and its effects over time, previous research has shown that intimacy and gender are intricately linked in crimes of interpersonal violence. Recall that females usually victimize and are victimized by family members, especially male intimate partners, while males more often victimize and are victimized by other males, strangers or otherwise. In addition, as noted above, gender of the accused and the victim has also been shown to affect court outcomes in cases of violence. As such, isolating the distinctive effects of intimacy on criminal justice outcomes requires that the gender of both the accused and the victim be taken into account. Below, the separate and combined effects of gender on outcomes in Toronto homicide cases are described.

Looking back at the separate, independent effects of gender, Table 4.8 shows that the gender of the accused was important in determining outcomes at several stages of the criminal process. First, of those cases sent to trial, Model 3 shows that male accused were more likely to be found guilty at trial than female accused. Moreover, Model 5 demonstrates that male accused were more likely to be convicted overall than female accused and, as shown in Model 6, they were also more likely to be convicted of the more serious charges of either first- or second-degree murder than females. Finally, Model 7 shows that male accused were more likely to receive a federal sentence compared to female accused. The gender of the victim was also an important determinant at all but one stage of the criminal justice process. First, if the victim was male, the accused was less likely to be charged with first-degree murder (Model 1) and less likely to have their case resolved at trial (Model 2) compared to those who killed female victims. Second, if the victim was male, of those acquitted of their crimes (Model 4), the accused was less likely to be found not criminally responsible by reason of mental disorder than when the victim was female. Third, those accused of killing male victims were more likely to be convicted overall (Model 5), but less likely to be convicted of murder (Model 6) than those accused of killing female victims. Finally, with respect to sentencing, those who killed male victims were less likely to be sentenced to a federal institution (Model 7) and received shorter sentences (Model 8) than those accused of killing female victims.

Based on the above, then, it is clear that both the gender of the accused and the gender of the victim are important factors in determining criminal justice outcomes. Focusing on inter-sexual homicides only,[35] the combined effects of gender and type of relationship on criminal justice outcomes shed some additional light on the association between intimacy and criminal law. Two comparisons are made below: First, looking at each type of inter-sexual homicide, outcomes in intimate and non-intimate partner homicides are compared. Second, looking at the type of homicide (distinguished by victim-accused relationship), outcomes in male-on-female and female-on-male killings are compared.

Table 4.11 shows that victim-accused relationship is associated with criminal justice outcomes in homicide cases involving male offenders and female victims, at least at the bivariate level. That is, within that category of inter-sexual homicide, five of the seven outcomes were significantly different, depending on the type of relationship that existed between the accused and the victim. For example, male accused who killed female intimate partners were significantly less likely to be charged with first-degree murder than male accused who killed females with whom they did not share an intimate relationship (35 percent and 51 percent). Consistent with the treatment of intimate partner homicide generally, male-on-female intimate partner homicides were less likely to be resolved at trial compared to male-on-female non-intimate partner homicides (54 percent and 78 percent respectively). Similarly, the last three decision-making stages also showed different treatment – men who killed female intimate partners were less likely to be convicted of murder (47 percent to 71 percent), less likely to receive a federal sentence (87 percent to 96 percent) and received shorter sentences (by about five years) than males who killed females who were not their intimate partner. In contrast, looking at homicides in which female accused persons killed male victims, there were no significant differences in criminal justice outcomes across the two relationship types, however, the lack of significant associations here may be due to the smaller sample sizes.

Table 4.11: Criminal justice outcomes for inter-sexual homicide by type of victim-accused relationship, Reduced Sample, Toronto, Ontario, 1974-2002
Male-female homicide Female-male homicide
Intimate Other Intimate Other
Criminal justice outcome
First degree murder 35%** 51% 22% 19%
Case sent to trial 54%*** 78% 42% 60%
Found guilty at trial 70% 58% 35% 40%
Overall conviction 84% 66% 71% 64%
Murder conviction 47%** 71% 6% 15%
Federal sentence 87%* 96% 51% 63%
Length of sentence 10*** 15 4 5

Note: * p < .05 ** p < .01 *** p < .001

Turning to Table 4.12, within each type of homicide, the treatment of male and female accused persons are compared, demonstrating that the gender combination of the accused and the victim matters for both types of homicides. Looking first at cases of intimate partner homicide, male accused receive different treatment than female accused in four of the eight outcomes. More specifically, compared to females who kill male partners, males who kill female partners are more likely to be found guilty at trial (70 percent compared to 35 percent), more likely to be convicted overall (84 percent to 71 percent), more likely to be convicted of murder (47 percent to 6 percent), more likely to receive a federal sentence (87 percent compared to 51 percent) and, finally, to be sentenced to a longer term of imprisonment (by about six years). Some of this variation likely reflects the different contexts in which male and female offenders kill their intimate partners. For example, research has shown that men who kill female partners have often abused the victims prior to the homicide whereas male victims of intimate partner killings have frequently abused the female accused (DOJ, 2003).[36] Within the non-intimate partner category of homicides, different treatment for males and females was also evident. Male accused persons were more likely to be charged with first-degree murder (51 percent compared to 19 percent) and more likely to have their cases sent to trial than female accused (78 percent compared to 60 percent). Furthermore, compared to females, male accused were more likely to be convicted of murder (71 percent compared to 15 percent), more likely to receive a federal sentence (96 percent compared to 63 percent) and, finally, more likely to be sentenced to a longer term of imprisonment (15 years compared to 5 years).

Table 4.12: Criminal justice outcomes for type of homicide by gender combination of the homicide, Reduced Sample, Toronto, Ontario, 1974-2002
Intimate partner Non-intimate partner
Male-female Female-male Male-female Female-male
Criminal justice outcomea
First degree murder 35% 22% 51% *** 19%
Case sent to trial 54% 42% 78%* 60%
Found guilty at trial 70%** 35% 58% 40%
Overall conviction 84%* 71% 64% 66%
Murder conviction 47%*** 6% 71%*** 15%
Federal sentence 87%*** 51% 96%*** 63%
Length of sentenceb 10 4 15*** 5 years

Note: * p < .05 ** p < .01 *** p < .001

Finally, controlling for other legal and extra-legal factors, the multivariate analysis (not shown here) demonstrates that the gender combination of the accused and the victim remained significantly associated to criminal justice outcomes, primarily at the later decision-making stages. Specifically, compared to females who killed males, male accused persons who killed female victims, regardless of relationship type, were more likely to be convicted of murder, more likely to receive a federal term of imprisonment and to receive longer sentences. Because some important legal variables were not available for analysis, these findings should not be construed as support for more lenient treatment of female accused compared to male accused. This is discussed in more detail in the discussion section.


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