Skip

"The teacher, the hitman, and the questions that remain..."
January 22, 2013 6:14 PM   Subscribe

Nicole Ryan, a Nova Scotia teacher, offered a hit man $25,000 to bump off her husband because the police would not protect her from his abuse (longer, audio only). In her first 2010 trial, where she raised the defense of duress, she was aquitted; the Crown's 2011 appeal of that acquittal was dismissed, and her third 2013 trial resulted in a stay. But the victim didn't go on the stand to tell his side of the story.

Previously, the only official charge of domestic violence in the relationship had the husband as the victim; Michael Ryan had been beaten with pipes by members of Nicole's family. Her ex-husband (and his current spouse Shannon) has defended himself publicly in multiple comments on various blogs discussing the case. He has also posted a YouTube video explaining his side of a case.
posted by saucysault (75 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
be careful in those comment sections - filled with MRA bullshit (and some weird "he also lied to me!" by a seemingly jilted ex-lover).
posted by nadawi at 6:37 PM on January 22, 2013


Seems like she got away with attempted murder.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:38 PM on January 22, 2013


"It's a Sicilian message. It means Luca Brasi abused fish."
posted by R. Schlock at 6:40 PM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


What does "MRA" stand for?
posted by mph at 6:43 PM on January 22, 2013


So they get to prosecute you until they get a conviction up there? Weird.
posted by entropos at 6:44 PM on January 22, 2013


Planning a murder isn't self defense.
posted by Shit Parade at 6:44 PM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


mph - mens rights activists - generally they bang on about - feminism is a great evil, women are constantly lying about being abused/raped, and are stealing men's money and kids during divorces.
posted by nadawi at 6:45 PM on January 22, 2013


It does seem to me that the press and public have been rather too willing to defend her. She did, after all, intend and make a sincere effort to kill her husband. Had she succeeded, would she still enjoy the same sympathy?
posted by Flashman at 6:48 PM on January 22, 2013


how is this a gender issue - if you can afford a 10k or 25k murder contract you can also move away.
posted by Shit Parade at 6:54 PM on January 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


Benevolent sexism is just a bad as any other. We should stop pretending women are too weak to be held accountable for their choices.
posted by rcdc at 6:57 PM on January 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


Well, if someone ever repeatedly makes credible death threats against me and my child and the police won't help, I might consider murdering them. So yes, I do have quite a bit of sympathy for her.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:58 PM on January 22, 2013 [9 favorites]


Not to take a side, but this is some crap. Someone who attempts to pay people to murder another human being needs to be in prison. Largely because they solve their problems with their fellow humans by paying people to murder them. This is not contradictory to the idea that people who abuse other human beings also need to be in prison.
posted by ellF at 6:58 PM on January 22, 2013 [11 favorites]


wasn't she offering to split insurance money? i didn't get the sense she had it sitting around. she's a teacher. the case seems super convoluted and it seems suspicious that the husband didn't testify (like the prosecution knew he'd be a bad witness to prove he wasn't abusive).

as far as why gender is an issue, i'm not sure - i was just giving people a heads up that if they didn't want to read comments about women being feminazi bitches then they should tread carefully in the links.
posted by nadawi at 6:58 PM on January 22, 2013


Well, if I accused someone ever repeatedly of making makes credible death threats against me and my child and the police won't help, the Canadian courts would deem that I was justified in I might consider murdering them.

FTFY, FFS
posted by R. Schlock at 7:01 PM on January 22, 2013


it seems suspicious that the husband didn't testify

As someone who just spent a month on a jury – that sort of reasoning gets you a mistrial. All that means is that neither side called him as a witness, right?
posted by roger ackroyd at 7:03 PM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


yep. but if he's so iron clad and is word is worth so much, it seems weird that in the repeated court actions, he was never asked for his testimony by the people who were trying to imprison her. since we're not in a court of law and his defense is long blog comments and a youtube video and has all the support of r/mensrights, i think we can question if he's being truthful here and why the crown didn't want him on record.
posted by nadawi at 7:06 PM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well, if someone ever repeatedly makes credible death threats against me and my child and the police won't help, I might consider murdering them. So yes, I do have quite a bit of sympathy for her.

With all due respect, this is a total popcorn thread for MetaFilter. The judge outlined a four-prong test for the argument of self-defense, and clearly states that the defendant had to show that there was "no obvious safe avenue of escape" from the threats of her husband.

While I completely disagree with the judge - having lost weight, being dissociated and despondent should not absolve you from the legal ramifications of hiring a hit man - this is an outlier case and I have absolutely no insight as to what actually transpired, so I refuse to get totally worked up about it. I just feel like I have better things to do, as this is already being handled by the courts.
posted by phaedon at 7:06 PM on January 22, 2013 [22 favorites]


What makes you think the threats were not credible? Abusive men murder their (ex) partners and their children. He was stalking her. She had tried to get police help multiple times and they told her there was nothing they could do. What were her amazing options for protecting herself and her child from this abusive and violent man?
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:06 PM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


That was in response to R. Schlock.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:07 PM on January 22, 2013


So they get to prosecute you until they get a conviction up there? Weird.

No, but the government can appeal from an acquittal if they believe the law was incorrectly applied. Otherwise, the only developments in criminal law would come from appeals of convictions, which since most appeals are dismissed would actually make future cases more likely to result in conviction, I'd say.

You can't appeal an acquittal down there? Weird.
posted by Lemurrhea at 7:08 PM on January 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


Nope, it is considered double jeopardy to re-try after the jury is seated for the trial, iirc.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:14 PM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


This case seems like even more of a mess than it sounded when I heard Nicole Ryan interviewed on The Current the other day (the longer audio link in the post.)

I don't like Michael Ryan's MRA rants, and I'm not taking anything he says as unvarnished truth, but according to him, he wasn't called as a witness in the original trial because the Crown thought it was a slam dunk case. Of course, this may not be true at all: he may well have been the murderous bully Nicole Ryan says he was, and this would have come across on the stand. Or he might have been an aggressive asshole who didn't actually make threats, but would have fit everyone's image of a murderous bully, and the Crown didn't call him for that reason.

He says that he got custody of their daughter -- which is unusual -- and says he was living over 200 km away with his new girlfriend at the time she said he made at least some of his threats. Is there anyone else backing up those claims?

I'd love to hear the RCMP's explanation for why they didn't take her allegations seriously. Yet more RCMP malfeasance and incompetence, or did they rightly conclude that she was making claims that didn't make sense?
posted by maudlin at 7:16 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Abusive men murder their (ex) partners and their children. He was stalking her....What were her amazing options for protecting herself and her child from this abusive and violent man?

Oh gosh. Where to start?

The hearsay?

Or the fallacy of necessity?
posted by R. Schlock at 7:18 PM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


even if he did issue death threats that does not justify attempted premeditated murder. don't see how that is a crazy pov. defending a person who contracted a hitman is crazy.
posted by Shit Parade at 7:23 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


maudlin - in one of the comment sections they go into the 200km away thing - the thing where he was sitting in her car in her school parking lot happened during that period. he claims it was a property ownership issue, she claims a stalking issue - regardless, he was able to be there, girlfriend and far away residence not withstanding.
posted by nadawi at 7:25 PM on January 22, 2013


Apply for a restraining order? Purchase a gun? Move to another town? surely the side justifying attempted murder has a high wall to climb.
posted by Shit Parade at 7:29 PM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ah -- thanks, nadawi.
posted by maudlin at 7:29 PM on January 22, 2013


R. Schlock: "Oh gosh. Where to start? The hearsay? Or the fallacy of necessity?"

Well, the court did examine the facts in the case and find evidence of abuse. And she did contact the authorities about this no less than twenty-one times, so it's not like there were no reports before now. If you want to say that the evidence of abuse was hearsay, you've got to contend with the court's findings, and I am not as ready as others seem to be to toss those findings out.

Shit Parade: "even if he did issue death threats that does not justify attempted premeditated murder. don't see how that is a crazy pov. defending a person who contracted a hitman is crazy... Apply for a restraining order? Purchase a gun? Move to another town? surely the side justifying attempted murder has a high wall to climb."

Look, this is a complicated case, and we need to be careful how we approach it. For one thing, it sounds like she claims she'd already been told that she couldn't apply for a restraining order. For another thing, guns are not really an effective way to defend oneself; the police are supposed to do that, and if what she says is true, they had declined to do so.

For another thing, the hired killer was an undercover officer of the RCMP, which was already aware of the case from her complaints. That seems fishy. And I'm very wary of police entrapment through the use of undercover officers; that's something that happens far more often than it should.

Basically, if you feared for your life intensely, getting threat after credible threat, and were continually told by the police that they'd do nothing - and then suddenly somebody offered to kill the person who was a threat to you, and even encouraged you strongly to take him up on it - what would you do? If this woman's story is true, that's what happened to her. And I think that those circumstances aren't simple ones.
posted by koeselitz at 7:35 PM on January 22, 2013 [24 favorites]


I wouldn't hire someone to murder someone else. Not a difficult moral calculation.
posted by Shit Parade at 7:43 PM on January 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


Wait it only costs $25,000 to have someone murdered? What the hell? That can't be right. I thought a hit man was way, way more than that, like $100,000 at least. I owe more than that in student loans. My student loans are worth more than a human life? Weird. Also, how does one go about hiring such a person? It's not like you could take out an ad in the classifieds. It just seems unlikely to me that a schoolteacher could (or believe they could) find these kinds of... services so accessibly. Unlikely and terrifying.
posted by windykites at 7:56 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have read the post four times, and I still can't understand who did what to whom in the muddle of pronouns.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:56 PM on January 22, 2013


I wouldn't hire someone to murder someone else. Not a difficult moral calculation.

See this is why this type of thread invites animosity. Not that I don't agree with you, but stating an a priori belief without considering any of the extenuating circumstances in this particular case does not count as a "moral calculation" of any substantive value, and probably is one of many reasons you don't sit behind a bench. Having said that, I respect your right have an opinion.
posted by phaedon at 7:56 PM on January 22, 2013 [14 favorites]


Shit Parade - so what would you do?

I am not saying it's okay to hire hit men to kill people - and as far as I can tell, neither did the court. What they seem to have said is that there were mitigating circumstances. I appreciate the perspective that they should both be in jail - making a credible death threat seems just about as bad as hiring a hit man - but the circumstances of the case have to be taken into account.
posted by koeselitz at 7:57 PM on January 22, 2013


And to further my point with a hypothetical, I would imagine if you endured years of abuse at the hands of a stronger person, and went to the police over 20 times in an effort to protect yourself, to no avail, then in a sense, you're right, you wouldn't hire a hitman, you'd probably do the job yourself.
posted by phaedon at 7:58 PM on January 22, 2013


The main issue here was whether the Supreme Court would extend the battered woman's defence from R. v. Lavallee. While I'm of the opinion that the science behind Lavallee is questionable, I've become more comfortable with that decision over the years, in part because of how narrow the extension of self-defence really is. Extending it to duress would make me nervous, and I'm happy that the court didn't extend it here.

In terms of whether retrying the case would be a just thing to do in this particular case, I don't know. My suspicion is that the court was trying to achieve a rough kind of justice by not ordering a new trial. Here, the facts are highly unusual and very much specific to this case, and the court does have discretion as to whether to order a new trial or not.
posted by sfred at 8:02 PM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


It well may not morally right, and I have never been in the situation to make the call, and I am pretty against violence, but if I, or someone I loved was systematically abused and creditably threatened and all legal course of actions had been tried... well, lets just say the thought may well cross my mind on the way to action.
posted by edgeways at 8:04 PM on January 22, 2013


I would not commit murder. i would leave. i would find a county in this large democracy known as canada that would respond to my pleas for help.

I'm not being absolutist, just agasp at the little it takes some to hypothetically justify the planning of a murder. let me never meet any of you least you take something I say as grounds for a beating or worse.
posted by Shit Parade at 8:06 PM on January 22, 2013


Ironically, she's trying to argue for justified attempted murder in a court where capital punishment has been completely abolished from the criminal code.
posted by ceribus peribus at 8:11 PM on January 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


I might consider murdering them

Don't be ridiculous, I would do it for you and you could pay me in tacos.
posted by elizardbits at 8:14 PM on January 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


I'm not being absolutist, just agasp at the little it takes some to hypothetically justify the planning of a murder.

I don't entirely disagree with you. I can't find any evidence that this woman was physically restricted from relocating. But then again, perhaps one could argue it is not the responsibility of a victim to move due to duress, cops be damned. If someone comes to the house you just bought near the job you are lucky enough to be hired at, do you just sell everything, give up and move? Or are we maybe saying, she's a woman, so it's more natural for her to flee, than to physically confront her aggressor?

The problem is I'm diving into speculative hypotheticals in order to prove a point that could be totally detached from reality. What I want to know is - if this hit were to go have gone through, would she have claimed responsibility?

The only other woman I know who has hired a hit man is Dalia Dippolito, a person far more fucked up than you could possibly imagine, whom the police conned into making her think she had successfully killed her husband. Check out the link, the guy they trot in is an undercover cop. Definitely makes me think twice about trusting the testimony of anyone who tries to kill anyone.
posted by phaedon at 8:22 PM on January 22, 2013


I'm not being absolutist, just agasp at the little it takes some to hypothetically justify the planning of a murder. let me never meet any of you least you take something I say as grounds for a beating or worse.

Well, if you threaten to burn my son and I alive while we peacefully sleep in our home, you might in fact dislike the results, even absent a long-running history of violence between us.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:23 PM on January 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


[Maybe we can have this discussion without talking about stalking, abusing, or murdering each other or our kids?]
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:26 PM on January 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


Sure, LobsterMitten. I'm just trying to provoke some empathy for the very reasonable fear that the victims of domestic violence experience, which is being downplayed and minimized here just like domestic violence is downplayed and minimized worldwide.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:46 PM on January 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


Confronting your aggressor is not the same as hiring a hitman.

if someone threatens me with sodomy surely it is not a proportionate response to hire someone to sodomize the threatener?
posted by Shit Parade at 8:48 PM on January 22, 2013


windykites: Wait it only costs $25,000 to have someone murdered? What the hell? That can't be right. I thought a hit man was way, way more than that, like $100,000 at least. I owe more than that in student loans. My student loans are worth more than a human life? Weird. Also, how does one go about hiring such a person? It's not like you could take out an ad in the classifieds. It just seems unlikely to me that a schoolteacher could (or believe they could) find these kinds of... services so accessibly. Unlikely and terrifying.

I don't think there's a population of hitmen running around killing people on demand. From the cases I've seen, people who advertise for them almost inevitably hire undercover police, which seems kind of obvious in retrospect. The first non-hitman to read it calls the cops, and then the cops respond tho the ad. The FBI probably has a couple of guys who have that as their entire job. The people who don't get caught that way usually hire criminals they know or junkies, but those people are often likely to take the advance and run (often turning the person who hired them on the way!) or they suck at doing the job, either not succeeding or getting easily caught afterwards. At that point, they have no reason not to sell out the person who hired them.

I would guess organized crime probably has a couple of them, but I doubt they rent them out, or at least they charge far more than that.
posted by Mitrovarr at 8:48 PM on January 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


Shit Parade: “Confronting your aggressor is not the same as hiring a hitman. if someone threatens me with sodomy surely it is not a proportionate response to hire someone to sodomize the threatener?”

So you're assuming that she wasn't coerced?
posted by koeselitz at 9:33 PM on January 22, 2013


if someone threatens me with sodomy surely it is not a proportionate response to hire someone to sodomize the threatener?

It's not? Are you sure about that?
posted by dersins at 9:46 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


seriously, what else can you do if your life and your child's life is in danger and the legal channels for dealing with it are unavailable to you? I think the Dixie Chicks had a song about this.
posted by Jon_Evil at 10:09 PM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


In terms of whether retrying the case would be a just thing to do in this particular case, I don't know. My suspicion is that the court was trying to achieve a rough kind of justice by not ordering a new trial. Here, the facts are highly unusual and very much specific to this case, and the court does have discretion as to whether to order a new trial or not.
posted by sfred at 11:02 PM on January 22

That was one thing I wondered about this. I'm very glad the Lavallee extension didn't come to pass, but the final composition of the court is a little strange. Fish is very much known as the due process guy on the bench (and I'm going to really, really miss him when he goes). For him to take a harsher stance than the other justices, in terms of a new trial, is downright bizarre to see; I honestly can't recall the last time something like this happened. I don't disagree with him at all, and his commentary is the usual Fish acidity, which is to say, perfectly correct and insightful. I'm just very curious to review the broadcasts to get some idea about what could have led to this decision.
posted by ZaphodB at 10:31 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


The rule is that there is no problem legally solvable by hiring a hitman. That is the definition of first degree murder.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:03 PM on January 22, 2013




I think an important point is that the RCMP ran a sting in which they called and offered to do the hit for her while not responding to her repeated attempts to get help from them and after her repeated attempts to do all the reasonable things ... flee, seek help etc.
Also, her child was also under threat.
posted by chapps at 11:50 PM on January 22, 2013 [12 favorites]


The link to the the 2013 case (R. v. Ryan, 2013 SCC 3) actually explains the issues quite clearly and, for what it's worth, I think it was a good decision. Here's my summary of it:

First, the background, in the words of the court:
The respondent, Nicole Ryan, has been the victim of a violent, abusive and controlling husband. [... S]he reasonably believed that Mr. Ryan would cause her and her daughter serious bodily injury and that there was no safe avenue of escape other than having him killed.
It's important to keep in mind that from a legal perspective there is no point in arguing that her husband wasn't all that abusive or that her belief wasn't really sincere. These are the facts as established at trial.

As a consequence of her belief she tried to engage a "hit man" to have her husband killed. He turned out to be an undercover officer and she was arrested. At her first trial she pleaded "duress". Duress is an ancient legal concept; it is basically a claim that someone forced you to commit a wrongful act. For instance, a bank teller who opens a safe for a robber holding a gun may be acting under duress. In English common law (which is strongly reflected in Canadian common law) duress is distinguished from "necessity", which basically means that you felt you had a really, really good reason to commit the wrongful act. Necessity is almost never found to be a lawful excuse.

It's also important to distinguish duress from self defence. Self defence applies when you act to protect yourself against an attacker. If your actions are reasonable then they are lawful. This is much stronger than duress, which is merely an excuse for an unlawful act: someone who shoots an attacker while in genuine fear for their life is acting in self defence and has not committed an unlawful killing. As we will see, it might have been argued that Ms Ryan was acting in self defence. In any event, the judge scrutinised the facts of the case to see whether they contained the four elements necessary to make a case of duress. These are:
  1. The accused must act solely as a result of the threats of death or serious bodily harm to himself or herself or another person;
  2. The threats must be of such gravity or seriousness that the accused believed that the threats would be carried out;
  3. The threats must be of such gravity that they might well have caused a reasonable person in the same situation as the accused to act in the same manner [...];
  4. The accused must not have had an obvious safe avenue of escape.


At Ms Ryan's first trial the judge found that the facts of her case (which, again, are not subject to dispute) matched the necessary elements of duress, and Ms Ryan was acquitted. The Crown appealed, arguing that the judge had made a mistake of law: it argued that duress applies "only when an accused is forced by threats to commit an offence against a third party". That is, the Crown argued that duress isn't just a feeling of necessity caused by someone making threats; it means that the will of the accused was overcome by the person making threats. In a sense, it was the person making threats who committed the unlawful act, using the accused as a tool.

The first court of appeal rejected this argument. It held that duress applies when someone's conduct is "morally involuntary". It also pointed out that if Ms Ryan had attacked her husband personally she might have been able to argue self-defence; it would be strange if she would lose that defence just because she chose to use a "hit man". For what it's worth, I think that's a pretty strong point. Anyway, it upheld Ms Ryan's acquittal.

The 2013 case was a second appeal by the Crown, to the Supreme Court of Canada. The court clarified the nature of duress: it applies when someone is "compelled to commit a specific unlawful act under threat of death or bodily harm" and it is "available only in situations in which the accused is threatened for the purpose of compelling the commission of an offence". I.e., the robber holds a gun to your head, and tells you to open the safe. Self-defence applies when someone "resist[s] force or a threat of force with force". Ms Ryan's husband was threatening her, but he certainly wasn't telling her to have him murdered. Duress therefore does not apply in this case, so the Crown's appeal would be granted and normally there should be a new trial in which Ms Ryan would be forced to plead self defence. However:

This case had unique features: the Crown changed its arguments (eventually claiming that duress was not an available plea) part way through, which presumably affected the course of Ms Ryan's defence; the suffering of Ms Ryan at her husband's hands; and "the disquieting fact that, on the record before us, it seems that the authorities were much quicker to intervene to protect Mr. Ryan than they had been to respond to her request for help in dealing with his reign of terror over her"; all these meant that it was not fair to subject her to another trial, so she is effectively free of any punishment. And for what it's worth, I think this was a wise and humane decision on the part of the court. The sole dissenting judge didn't really disagree; he just said that it should be a matter for prosecutorial discretion rather than a stay of proceedings by the court.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:55 PM on January 22, 2013 [29 favorites]


Holy crap. The RCMP knew her husband was abusing her and still refused to restrain him, and then carried out a sting to coax her into soliciting his murder? That is some fucked up shit right there.

I repent my earlier snark in dust and ashes and ask why in hell the daughter is still with him?
posted by R. Schlock at 12:17 AM on January 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


I don't think there's a population of hitmen running around killing people on demand.

They are mostly employed. Every criminal organization from the ethnic based gangs, the bikers, to the mafia, have enforcers who will do a murder. The US government has a bunch. If I was looking, I would tend towards a down on his luck veteran.

But I agree there are probably not many free agent hitmen like you see in the movies. But there were a few.

Murder inc. was responsible for between 500 and a 1000 murders before it was shut down.

Charles Harrelson is pretty interesting, not the least because he is Woody Harrelson's father and tried to confess to the JFK assassination.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 1:15 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


R V Ryan - when a woman prefers being behind bars. And this guy has custody of their daughter? Long live the patriarchy. Jesus.
posted by marienbad at 1:34 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Nope, it is considered double jeopardy to re-try after the jury is seated for the trial, iirc.

This is mostly correct. The only time there can be a second trial at the prosecution's request is when their is either a hung jury or a mistrial. In the latter case it can't have been the prosecution's fault.

If it's the defendant looking for a new trial, the double jeopardy concept doesn't apply.

But yes, in the US, the vast majority of case law dealing with criminal law arises out of appeals brought by defendants. When there is an acquittal by a jury, it's almost impossible for the prosecution to bring an appeal. The state, in essence, gets exactly one shot at a conviction.
posted by valkyryn at 3:04 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


if someone threatens me with sodomy surely it is not a proportionate response to hire someone to sodomize the threatener?

It's not? Are you sure about that?
posted by dersins at 5:46 AM on January 23


Are you serious?
posted by Decani at 3:27 AM on January 23, 2013


Another point of difference between US and Canadian law: in the US, neither duress nor necessity would have been available as a defense, and the self-defense claim would be exceedingly difficult to establish.

In the US, duress and necessity can be complete defenses to criminal charges, except for homicide. The US legal system has, for the most part, made the policy decision that one can be excused for most crimes when one's hand is forced in some way, but that this does not extend to killing people. If the choice is between the victim's life and one's own, one is generally required to choose in favor of the victim. This can seem harsh, but it's not an unjust result either. The victim presumably didn't do anything to deserve this either, so given a choice between two innocent victims, making a policy choice that one should choose to preserve life--and avoid committing terrible acts--where one can, even at great cost to one's self, is not a bad result.

So in this case, regardless of the circumstances which might give rise to some feeling of necessity, Ryan's actions would not permit her to claim necessity or duress, because she tried to have her husband killed, and in the US, necessity and duress do not justify that course of conduct.

This is not true for self-defense. Self-defense, if proven, is a complete defense to homicide. While the victim in homicide case where necessity or duress is pleaded is a third-party, in self-defense cases the victim is the attacker. You act to kill someone, and it's open season on your ass.

But US courts seem to have a requirement that Canadian court's don't, i.e., that for self-defense to be available, the threat must be immediate. Say someone walks up to you and says "I'm going to come over to your house and kill you next week. I'm going to do it with this gun right here. And I'm going to do it because you slept with my wife." If you shoot them at any time before they actually show up to kill you, then self-defense is not available, because the threat is not imminent. You have choices available to you other than engaging in deadly force.

This looks similar to the "no route of escape" requirement that Canadian courts impose for duress claims, but it's different in several important ways. First, many states do not impose what's called a "duty to retreat." In other words, if someone threatens you with imminent deadly force, you're allowed to kill them even if you can get away. The majority of states hold this doctrine with respect to being attacked in one's home or workplace. This is called the "castle doctrine." So-called "stand your ground" laws remove the duty to retreat even in public places. If someone threatens you with deadly force, you can kill them (unless you started the fight). So in many instances, you can engage in deadly self-defense even if you have other options. The reasoning is that by initiating unjustified deadly force, the attacker has forfeited any protections of law.

Second, Canadian courts don't seem to require that the threat or danger be imminent. The fact that there may be time to act is presumably a factor in whether one has other options, but it's not conclusive. The law would seemingly permit a jury to find that it was reasonable for a defendant to conclude that he had no other options than to engage in deadly force, even if the threat was next week. In the US, self-defense is not available as a defense unless the threat is happening right now. Or as close to right now as makes no odds. Fifteen minutes might work, but any more than that and you're really pushing it.

This has given rise to the so-called "battered woman defense," which generally arises in situations where an abused spouse--usually a woman--kills her abuser at a time when no abuse was actually occurring. In the US, pleading self-defense in such a situation has historically almost never worked. Court's almost uniformly require imminence as an element of self-defense, and a sustained pattern of abuse by the victim is not viewed as an equivalent.

But this may be starting to change. In 2011, a New York jury acquitted Barbara Sheehan of second-degree murder, though she did wind up getting five years on a related weapons charge. Regardless, the jury can sometimes be persuaded to return a verdict other than first-degree murder, e.g., Mary Winkler was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to 60 days in a mental health facility followed by probation for shooting her husband in the back while he was asleep in bed. The prosecution wanted murder one, but the jury came back with a lesser included offense.

TL;DR: in a US court, Ryan would have not been able to assert either duress or necessity as a defense, as neither provides a justification for homicide under US law, state or federal. She would have been able to assert self-defense, but that would be something of a "Hail Mary" and would need to rely on the increasingly-viable but still strongly-disfavored "battered woman defense." Then it'd largely be a question of whether she could get a jury to bite. Even if the jury refused to acquit--which is what the law says they should do--they could return a conviction for manslaughter or some other offense less than murder.
posted by valkyryn at 3:44 AM on January 23, 2013 [9 favorites]


Valkyryn: she was pleading duress as an excuse for "counselling the commission of an offence not committed". I don't know enough Canadian law to know whether she could have pleaded duress if the murder had actually been carried out. Would that make a difference in the USA? Canadian law already excludes a lot of crimes (including murder) from the statutory excuse of duress, but Ms Ryan was pleading the common law one; again, I don't know if that would have made a difference.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:12 AM on January 23, 2013


Yeah let's keep all the loud mouth "it's pure and simple see" binary thinkers off the court plz
posted by lordaych at 5:10 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Joe in australia, thank you so much for that clear and concise explanation of the case; I really understand it a lot better now. Favourited!
posted by windykites at 6:27 AM on January 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Just to clarify a bit [this is discussed in thecourt.ca's discussion] - Canadian law has 2 forms of duress. One is statutory in the Criminal Code (s. 17). That form would not allow murder/attempted murder, or various other crimes, and doesn't allow for co-conspirators (getaway driver, for example).

We also have a common-law/constitutional duress, because it's a Principle of Fundamental Justice, so it can't be overridden or reduced too far by statute. This one does allow for co-conspirators. It's unclear whether it could be invoked in the case of murder/attempted murder/other excluded ones - some of the other statutory-excluded things have been allowed by lower courts (things like robbery, offhand). There is a proportionality requirement, so I can't see how murder or similar things could ever be duress; sexual assault maybe? Arson almost certainly could be? (so Joe in Australia, there's your non-answer!).

This is in contrast to something like self-defence, which is only set out in the Criminal Code; there's no common-law aspect to it anymore.

Here the defence wasn't allowed, but this isn't a duress case for other reasons as people above discussed very well.

And yeah, we've had some form of Battered Spouse Syndrome* since 1990. I was always more comfortable with it than sfred says they were, but well it's been the law since I was 5 and it hasn't expanded that much, so it's tricky to get up in arms about it. Really it's just relaxing the temporal aspect of self-defence a bit when there are strong psychological reasons that the accused can't flee.

*I generally refer to it as BSS rather than BWS, and hear that from my peer group; there is absolutely nothing preventing the same emotional and psychological abuse from being used against a man, and he would presumably have the same defence open to him. Not to criticize valkyryn or sfred who used it, the terminology is definitely still in flux.
posted by Lemurrhea at 6:55 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


This has given rise to the so-called "battered woman defense," which generally arises in situations where an abused spouse--usually a woman--kills her abuser at a time when no abuse was actually occurring.

I don't know if this has been referenced in any of the links, but I think it's worth noting that possibly Canada's most famous example of this is the case of Jane Hurshman, who was also from Nova Scotia.

I didn't realize Hurshman killed herself, Jesus.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 7:19 AM on January 23, 2013


Shit Parade: “if someone threatens me with sodomy surely it is not a proportionate response to hire someone to sodomize the threatener?”

dersins: “It's not? Are you sure about that?”

Decani: “Are you serious?”

I think dersins' point was that SP was severely understating the duress she was under. And sodomy clearly isn't a parallel case, so yes, it seems a bit weird. The point, as Joe in Australia so thoughtfully established above, is that she was truly convinced that hiring a hit man was the only way to escape from this guy.
posted by koeselitz at 7:20 AM on January 23, 2013


The point, as Joe in Australia so thoughtfully established above, is that she was truly convinced that hiring a hit man was the only way to escape from this guy.

Well... kind of. That's part of the point, anyway. True, for her claim of duress to work, she needed to convince the jury that she did legitimately believe that. But she also needs to convince them that this belief was reasonable. This is a term of art in the legal system, and it refers to a nominally "objective" standard. It does not make many allowances for the particularities of the defendant. The prosecution has an excellent argument that a reasonable person in her position would not have resorted to hiring a hit man. Indeed, there's a good argument that hiring a hit man is never a reasonable response to any set of facts.

Murder-for-hire is just about the worst thing you can do, as far as the legal system is concerned, and it's one of the only sure-fire ways to get the prosecution to seriously consider pursuing the death penalty (assuming it's available). Killing someone is bad, but doing it for money or asking someone else to do it for money is worse. It demonstrates such a low regard for human life that anything which might encourage that kind of behavior is going to be a third rail in court. So taking a position that commissioning murder for hire is an objectively reasonable response to any set of circumstances is going to make the court--and hopefully the jury--really uncomfortable.
posted by valkyryn at 7:39 AM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is a term of art in the legal system, and it refers to a nominally "objective" standard.

Technically we're using the "modified objective standard" - so there are a few more allowances than your comment might lead people to believe. Essentially the question is whether a reasonable person, in that person's circumstances, would believe such a thing. That's how we can bring in the impact of psychological/emotional abuse, especially over the long term.

That being said...yeah I'm with you on the conclusion, I'm not sure there's every going to be a case in which a hit man is reasonable on that standard.
posted by Lemurrhea at 7:56 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


valkyryn: “Well... kind of. That's part of the point, anyway. True, for her claim of duress to work, she needed to convince the jury that she did legitimately believe that. But she also needs to convince them that this belief was reasonable. This is a term of art in the legal system, and it refers to a nominally "objective" standard. It does not make many allowances for the particularities of the defendant. The prosecution has an excellent argument that a reasonable person in her position would not have resorted to hiring a hit man. Indeed, there's a good argument that hiring a hit man is never a reasonable response to any set of facts. Murder-for-hire is just about the worst thing you can do, as far as the legal system is concerned, and it's one of the only sure-fire ways to get the prosecution to seriously consider pursuing the death penalty (assuming it's available). Killing someone is bad, but doing it for money or asking someone else to do it for money is worse. It demonstrates such a low regard for human life that anything which might encourage that kind of behavior is going to be a third rail in court. So taking a position that commissioning murder for hire is an objectively reasonable response to any set of circumstances is going to make the court--and hopefully the jury--really uncomfortable.”

You really think dersins was saying all that?
posted by koeselitz at 8:12 AM on January 23, 2013


You really think dersins was saying all that?

Haven't the faintest.
posted by valkyryn at 8:28 AM on January 23, 2013


Or, rather, you used the word "point" twice in your comment, and I was referring to the second usage.
posted by valkyryn at 8:30 AM on January 23, 2013


the sodomy analogy was completely ridiculous and i thought dersins was just joking in the face of the absurdity.
posted by nadawi at 8:45 AM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Essentially the question is whether a reasonable person, in that person's circumstances, would believe such a thing. That's how we can bring in the impact of psychological/emotional abuse, especially over the long term.

I think I was unclear there. I said that the objective standard "does not make many allowances for the particularities of the defendant." I still think that's technically true, but I think that was an unhelpful way of putting it.

The test is "objective" in that we aren't generally allowed to consider facts about the defendant, but we are absolutely considering facts about the situation. Those, too, are "objective," in that we believe that any observer in that situation would have seen the same things.

So the fact that the defendant is of a certain religious persuasion, or a woman, or white, or has a certain degree of education, are irrelevant. So is whether the defendant was really angry, or afraid, or depressed. No consideration is to be given to those factors.* But the fact that the defendant had been subject to protracted abuse by the victim is going to be a fact in the attendant circumstances that will be considered, just like the fact that it was day/night, or raining/sunny, or that the victim did/did not pull a gun would be considered.

Essentially, don't tell me anything about the defendant, but tell me everything about the defendant's circumstances.

Of course, that's a blurry line though, ain't it? Does two decades of consistent verbal and physical abuse count as a fact about the defendant or about the defendant's circumstances? Arguably both. But I think it can be teased out. We look at what actually happened, not what the defendant thought or felt about what actually happened. So in this case, the focus would be on the conduct of the victim, not the state of the defendant. The fact that the victim did such and such on such and such a date? Relevant. The fact that the defendant sought psychological counseling as a result? Not relevant.

Or, at least, that's how I foresee something like that working out.

*For the record: mental illness is not generally taken into account. The mentally ill are held to exactly the same standard as everyone else. This may seem harsh, but the alternative is to completely abandon any pretense of objectivity and treat each and every case as unique. This is impractical and would lead to bad outcomes.
posted by valkyryn at 8:46 AM on January 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Lemurrhea: I'm ambivalent about using battered spouse syndrome instead of battered woman's syndrome, though I'm aware that this usage is increasing. Somehow, BSS seems to forget the importance of feminist scholars and gender politics in the development of the idea of the syndrome in the first place. I don't think that this intellectual history is a bad thing, far from it. Anyhow, I'm sure as the usage does change over time, I'll adapt to the new phrase and cease my grumbling about staying true to the intellectual history of the concept.
posted by sfred at 1:00 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Valkyryn wrote: taking a position that commissioning murder for hire is an objectively reasonable response to any set of circumstances is going to make the court--and hopefully the jury--really uncomfortable.

It appears that in Canada the test for duress isn't reasonableness but proportionality. And this makes sense: duress is about someone saying "do this or I will hurt and/or kill you"; it's the assailant who has chosen the course of action, not the victim. That's why duress wasn't a great fit for the facts of Ms Ryan's case: she was the one who chose the course of action, not him; it's also why the Supreme Court hinted that self-defence would have been an appropriate plea.

Canadian statutory law explicitly rules out duress as a defence for murder, but I can imagine circumstances where a threat is so great that carrying out a murder is a proportionate response to it : "shoot this person or I will blow up the building", for instance. Of course, killing the person making the threat instead would probably be justifiable as self-protection or the protection of others.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:33 PM on January 23, 2013


Besides the problematic depreciation of female on male spousal abuse BWS is also hetronormative. BSS is a better term on both fronts.
posted by Mitheral at 10:04 PM on January 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


« Older Why I Love Saturn   |   "Islamic men interested in men who live in Tehran" Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post