Luka Magnotta’s Not Criminally Responsible Defence Unlikely To Be Successful
As gruesome details emerge in the Luka Magnotta trial, an even more gruesome reality looms overhead: Magnotta, if he succeeds with his defence, may not end up in prison.
It may seem odd considering he admitted to killing and mutilating Concordia University student Jun Lin and then sending Lin’s body parts to Prime Minister Stephen Harper as well as to several Canadian schools.
That’s because Magnotta raised the “not criminally responsible” (NCR) defence. Under section 16(1) of the Criminal Code, “No person is criminally responsible for an act committed or an omission made while suffering from a mental disorder that rendered the person incapable of appreciating the nature and quality of the act or omission or knowing that it was wrong.”
But experts Don Stuart and Lisa Dufraimont, both professors of Criminal Law at Queen’s University, say the defence won’t be easy to prove.
“It’s more difficult when there’s not an obvious mental disorder,” Stuart said. Based on the horrific nature of the crime, Stuart argues it will be hard to say Magnotta was suffering from a specific mental illness or delusion, such as schizophrenia, which is the disease he suspects the defence will try to identify.
“It’s the only thing they have to work with, so they’re going to do it … but it’s unlikely to be successful,” Dufraimont said.
Even if Magnotta has schizophrenia, the diagnosis itself is not enough to render an NCR verdict.
“You have to go further and say that because of his mental disorder he was incapable of knowing that what he did was wrong,” Stuart said. “And if he had been planning it in advance and sending these body parts around, I think it’s a very difficult sell.”
It will be up to the jury to decide based on several weeks of witness testimony from a parade of psychological experts. Dufraimont, however, says difficulty could arise due to conflicting testimony from equally qualified experts.
Stuart notes another problem with using experts to interpret the law: “We use this language of ‘mental disorder,’ which is up to date … but the legal test for irresponsibility as a result of mental disorder is that you were incapable of appreciating the nature and quality of the act and knowing that it was wrong.”
“That is Victorian language and unknown to psychologists,” he said. “But they all sort of play the game.”
That game is almost always controversial when it comes to holding someone who admits to a horrific act not criminally responsible. Bill C-14 (or the Not Criminally Responsible Reform Act), passed in April 2014, makes public safety concern the paramount concern for review boards deciding upon the release of individuals found NCR. Much of this concern for public safety comes from several recent NCR cases.
In 2009, Vince Li successfully raised the NCR defense after beheading a fellow passenger on a Greyhound bus. Two years later, Quebec doctor Guy Turcotte was found not criminally responsible for killing his two children.
Turcotte was released earlier this month, though Quebec’s chief Crown prosecutor is asking the Court of Appeal to review this decision. The Crown has successfully appealed for a new trial, arguing that the NCR defense should not have been available in the first place. Their reasoning is that Turcotte’s actions were influenced, not by his mental disorder, but instead by the fact that he drank copious amounts of windshield washer fluid.
Li, in contrast, claimed he thought the man he killed was a demon and that he was protecting himself and society from a threat, which Dufraimont says is “sort of a textbook case of when you get a mental disorder defence.”
“He actually thought that according to the moral standards of society that it was the right thing to do,” she said. “That sounds like an abnormal way of thinking.”
Magnotta’s thinking may have been twisted, but Dufraimont says she gets the impression from the evidence reported thus far that Magnotta was chasing fame, not demons.
“I don’t see anything in what’s been out there in the media so far about what happened in [Magnotta’s] case that suggests for a second that he didn’t know this was wrong.”
Sarah Spitz (1L) is a News Editor for Juris Diction.
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