Pintar had a history with Ross (one of the victims) – Ross used to beat his wife, who now had a relationship with the appellant. Ross was not impressed by this, and had made several threats to injure or kill Pintar. Gill (the second victim) was a friend of Ross, but was not known to Pintar prior to the altercation. The night before the altercation Ross and Gill had been drinking, and they decided to make Pintar pay for what he had done to Ross' marriage. Ross entered the defendant's house and woke him up at which point a fight ensued. After striking Ross in the face and knocking him out of the house, Ross and Gill started to leave, but then changed their mind and returned toward the house. By this point Pintar had grabbed his rifle and approached the two men. There was a struggle for the rifle and Pintar shot both of the men, both of whom died. He called the police and immediately reported the incident. He was charged with second-degree murder at trial and the jury found him guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter on both counts. Pintar appealed on both the conviction and the sentence.
- Was the charge on self-defence so unnecessarily complex and confusing that it constituted an error of law?
- Did the trial judge undermine the availability of ss.34(1) and 34(2) by precluding the jury from considering Ross' original unprovoked assault on the appellant in satisfaction of the first and second constituent elements of s.34(1) and the first constituent element of s.34(2)?
- Did the trial judge err in instructing the jury that the applicability of s.34(2) of the Code was contingent upon a finding that the appellant intended to cause death or grievous bodily harm to the deceased?
- Did the trial judge err in failing to instruct the jury on the relevance of the appellant's knowledge of Ross' propensity for violence and Ross' prior threats of violence towards him in assessing the appellant's state of mind at the time of the shootings?
Appeal allowed, new trial ordered.
Moldaver, writing for a unanimous court, first acknowledges that the charge to a jury for self-defence is very confusing, as are the sections of the Code dealing with the defence. He holds that judges should take a "functional" approach when charging juries, particularly with regard to self-defence, to help them understand the legal technicalities in laymen's terms, although goes to great lengths to indicate this is not a new doctrine.
The appellant claims that the complexity and confusion of the charge concerning self-defence to the jury resulted in an error in law. Moldaver says that a complex charge is not automatically an error in law; however it will be an error if it is so unnecessarily complex that it diverted the jury from considering the real bases of self-defence that were at issue in the case. He goes on to differentiate between ss.34(1) and 34(2). He holds that s.34(2) has a wider scope, and that if the accused were to be convicted despite s.34(2) being considered, then a consideration of s.34(1) would not (in most cases) make any difference - in cases where it would make a difference counsel for the accused would have to make that case to the judge prior to jury instruction. As a result, it was unnecessary for the trial judge to charge the jury with respect of s.34(1) as it just added confusion.
Section 34(2) does not mention intent. It applies whenever someone causes death or grievous bodily harm as a result of their actions (claimed to be in self-defence) – there does not need to be intent to cause this harm for this section to apply. However, it is also applicable if the person did intend to kill or cause grievous bodily harm with their actions. The trial judge instructed the jury that s.34(2) was only applicable if the defendant intentionally caused death or grievous bodily harm; this was an error of law and thus a new trial is required.
Jury charges should be done utilizing the "functional approach" – explaining complicated concepts in ways that only address the relevant features for the case at bar; adding unnecessary complexity only adds confusion and can result in an error in law.