Academic journal article Issues in Law & Medicine

Robert William Latimer V. Her Majesty the Queen: In the Supreme Court of Canada

Academic journal article Issues in Law & Medicine

Robert William Latimer V. Her Majesty the Queen: In the Supreme Court of Canada

Article excerpt

1. By the Court:

2. This appeal arises from the death of Tracy Latimer, a 12-year-old girl who had a severe form of cerebral palsy Her father, Robert Latimer, took her life some seven years ago. He was found guilty of second degree murder. This appeal deals with three questions of law arising from his trial. First, did the trial judge mishandle the defence of necessity, resulting in an unfair trial? Second, was the trial unfair because the trial judge misled the jury into believing it would have some input into the appropriate sentence? Third, does the imposition of the mandatory minimum sentence for second degree murder constitute "cruel and unusual punishment" in this case, so that Mr. Latimer ("the appellant") should receive a constitutional exemption from the minimum sentence?

3. We conclude that the answer to all three questions is no. The defence of necessity is narrow and of limited application in criminal law. In this case, there was no air of reality to that defence. The trial judge was correct to conclude that the jury should not consider necessity While the timing of the removal of this defence from the jury's consideration was later in the trial than usual, it did not render the appellant's trial unfair or violate his constitutional rights. On the second issue, the trial judge did not prejudice the appellant's rights in replying to a question from the jury on whether it could offer input on sentencing. In answer to the third question, we conclude that the mandatory minimum sentence for second degree murder in this case does not amount to cruel and unusual punishment within the meaning of s. 12 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The test for what amounts to "cruel and unusual punishment" is a demanding one, and the appellant has not succeeded in showing that the sentence in his case is "grossly disproportionate" to the punishment required for the most serious crime known to law, murder.

4. We conclude that Mr. Latimer's conviction and sentence of life in prison with a mandatory minimum of 10 years' imprisonment for second degree murder should be upheld. This means that the appellant will not be eligible for parole consideration for 10 years, unless the Minister of Justice elects to exercise the power to grant him clemency from this sentence, using the royal prerogative of mercy The Court's role is to determine the questions of law that arise in this appeal; the matter of executive clemency remains in the realm of the executive, and it is discussed later in these reasons.

5. The law has a long history of difficult cases. We recognize the questions that arise in Mr. Latimer's case are the sort that have divided Canadians and sparked a national discourse. This judgment will not end that discourse.

6. Mr. Latimer perceived his daughter and family to be in a difficult and trying situation. It is apparent from the evidence in this case that he faced challenges of the sort most Canadians can only imagine. His care of his daughter for many years was admirable. His decision to end his daughter's life was an error in judgment. The taking of another life represents the most serious crime in our criminal law.

Facts

7. The appellant, Robert Latimer, farmed in Wilkie, Saskatchewan. His 12year-old daughter, Tracy, suffered a severe form of cerebral palsy She was quadriplegic and her physical condition rendered her immobile. She was bedridden for much of the time. Her condition was a permanent one, caused by neurological damage at the time of her birth. Tracy was said to have the mental capacity of a four-month-old baby, and she could communicate only by means of facial expressions, laughter and crying. She was completely dependent on others for her care. Tracy suffered seizures despite the medication she took. It was thought she experienced a great deal of pain, and the pain could not be reduced by medication since the pain medication conflicted with her anti-epileptic medication and her difficulty in swallowing. …

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