Fontaine was driving with two other people in his car and was involved in a high-speed chase. He intended to commit suicide and ran the car into a parked trailer. He did not die, but one of his passengers in the car did. He was charged with first-degree murder under s.229(b) of the Criminal Code. The defendant was convicted at trial which he appealed.
- Is the intention to commit suicide transferrable to become intent to commit murder?
Appeal allowed, new trial ordered.
The trial judge charged the jury by stating if they found that Fontaine had intended to kill himself beyond a reasonable doubt, and the other person was killed as a result of the actions, then he should be found guilty of murder, even if he only killed the other person by accident.
The appellate judges make it clear that murder is a crime that requires specific intent. Therefore, the question is if the intent required for suicide is transferrable to result in a conviction for murder. They try to decide if suicide counts as murder under the Code and debate whether murder simply required intending to kill a human, or specifally another human. In the end they decide that the code is ambiguous. Although the primary principle of statutory interpretation is to find the legislative intent, when this results in ambiguity (two or more intentions are possible), then in criminal interpretation one must take the interpretation that favors the defendant (contra proferentem) because criminal law is interpreted narrowly in order to protect the freedom of people accused of crimes. Therefore, they assume that murder requires the intent to kill another human, and therefore the transferrable intent from suicide does not satisfy the mens rea requirements for murder.
- Criminal statutes are interpreted narrowly, and favor defendants whenever possible (contra proferentem).
- When crimes require specific intention, then a transfer of general intention (or specific intention from another crime) will not satisfy the specific intention required unless the specific intention is identical from the other crime.