2008 Karen Selick
An edited version of this article first appeared in the August 13, 2008 issue of the National Post.
If you wish to reproduce this article, click here for copyright info.
Hear the Other Side
During twenty-one years of practising
matrimonial law, I’ve
learned that no matter how convincing a story my client tells me while
across the desk from me, the picture will change when I hear the other
version of the same events. Sometimes the change will be slight,
enormous. Occasionally I can hardly
believe that both people are describing the same incidents.
That’s why the legal maxim audi alteram partem, meaning “hear the other side”, evolved centuries ago—to caution judges and juries about the danger of reaching conclusions without having heard both sides of the story.
But when one spouse has murdered the other,
Pohchoo Craig of Kemptville, Ontario did to her husband Jack, the court
hear only one side of the story—the murderer’s. And
when the murderer says she was an abused
wife and therefore deserves leniency, what should we believe?
Ms. Craig’s recent trial in
She was an abused wife, she told police, but
the abuse was
never physical, just verbal. As I
perused the newspaper reports of her allegations, I couldn’t help
Jack’s side of the story might have sounded, had he lived to tell it.
Teresa’s allegation: “I even had to ask permission to telephone my family.”
Jack’s reply: “That was after she phoned her
Teresa: “He even timed my visits to the bathroom.”
Jack: “I yelled at her once, ‘You’ve been in
the shower for
25 minutes with the bathroom door locked, and I have to use the
Teresa: “He called me ‘bitch’ and ‘whore’.”
Jack: “She called me worse than that.”
The jury, however, got to hear only Teresa’s version of the story. They responded by finding her guilty only of manslaughter, rather than the premeditated, first-degree murder that her act seems to have been. As a result, she avoided life imprisonment and may be out of jail after serving as little as two years of her official eight-year sentence.
Her expert witness testified that Teresa
leave Jack because she feared he would get custody of their son and
from seeing the child. Jack had threatened this—or so Teresa said.
did. It’s a common enough threat. My
male and female—regularly tell me they hear this threat.
However, none of them has ever murdered a
spouse as a precautionary measure.
Teresa had actually left Jack twice before, including once since the child was born. She had previously had sole custody of the child for about six years. Five minutes with a matrimonial lawyer would have been enough to reassure her that she was the parent with the far better chance of getting custody.
But she didn’t apparently seek such advice.
decided that her child would be better served by having a dead father
and a jailed
mother than by running the chance of being raised by the man she later
to police as “a very good father” but a stern disciplinarian.
Readers, get used to this. We can expect to
see many more
female criminals getting off with a slap on the hand in future. Recent legal developments both in
Ten years ago, in a Supreme Court of Canada
decision called R.
v. Malott, two female judges including Chief Justice Beverley
invited lawyers to get creative with the battered wife excuse—to apply
only in cases where self-defence is claimed but whenever the
a woman’s actions are at issue. Furthermore, the judges suggested,
let’s not be
overly restrictive about identifying battered women. They aren’t only
passive, dependent types. The category also includes strong,
assertive and professional women. But, they warned, it would be
allow men to plead “battered husband syndrome”, at least until more
done. I’m not holding my breath.
Already, there are at least two reported cases of Canadian women using battered wife syndrome to gain acquittals on fraud charges.
Recently, the Labour government in the
Meanwhile, in my law practice, I’ve started wondering. If I get even the faintest hint that an opposing female party is alleging that her husband—my client—was abusive, must I now start warning my client that his life might be in danger?
- END -
November 16, 2008