Since the first murder trial of ex-cardiologist Guy Turcotte caused “collective confusion,” only one jury has sent a killer to a psychiatric hospital rather than prison.
Stakeholders interviewed for this survey are unanimous: this is a turning point in public opinion regarding the ruling on non-criminal liability due to mental disorder (NCRTM).
The Laurentian doctor was recognized as NCRTM in July 2011 for murdering her three- and five-year-old children. After the crime, he drank windshield washer fluid in an attempted suicide.
“It’s not representative of our patients or the homicide files we have [à l’Institut Philippe-Pinel]. It’s unfortunate because we talk about it a lot, but the people we treat don’t have that profile,” notes criminologist Sandrin Martin.
Photo by Eric Thibault
However, the case struck the collective imagination to the extent that it shook the public’s faith in justice and in 2014 toughened the law to include a high-risk defendant label.
“There is the whole problem of the credibility of the judicial process. […] It feels like a scam. If you have a good defense, you’re going to eat a piece of candy, and in his case, it’s a bit true,” says law professor Emmanuel Bernheim.
However, the appeals court ordered a new trial, after which Turcotte was sentenced to life in prison without parole for 17 years.
“After the first verdict it was a collective mess, people were shocked. […] It’s as if they said to themselves: never again [on ne va laisser passer ça]”, explains criminal lawyer Véronique Robert.
According to our research, only one killer was ever found by a jury, the NCRTM. And the circumstances were special: he was hospitalized in a psychiatric ward when he strangled two other patients.
This ruling has also been rejected in several high-profile cases, such as Luca Rocco Magnotta, Richard Henry Paine and, more recently, Carl Girouard in Quebec.
Dozens of murderers since the Durkot affair have been declared NCRTM, but have always followed an agreement between the Crown and the defence.
Are we seeing a hardening of attitudes? “Maybe, I wouldn’t be surprised,” answers psychology professor Suzanne Leavily.
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