A Strong Case Based on Circumstantial Evidence - Megan Filyk
On the early morning of October 3rd, 2017, the accused in R v Belyk (“Belyk”) got into the car of Brittany Bung and stabbed her multiple times; these injuries would lead to her death sometime soon after. At first glance, a second-degree murder conviction seemed probable. The facts, however, pointed to Belyk, a decision by the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench (“the MBQB”) being more complicated. Eventually, a conviction of manslaughter was reached. In the immediate circumstances around the killing, there was witness testimony stating that Mr. Belyk, the accused, was acting very erratically and unpredictably in the gas station where he first encountered the victim. It was established by the employee of the gas station who served the victim that they did not know the accused, though they were seen speaking at the coffee station prior to the events unfolding.
After this, the accused in Belyk followed the victim to her car and got in. As she began to drive away, he stabbed her multiple times. The car was found on the side of the highway, very near to the Petro Canada where the accused and victim first encountered each other. The victim died on transport to the hospital not long after she was found. The accused had fled the scene and there had been witness reports of him being spotted when several officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (“the RCMP”) found him undressed and hissing at them as they approached with weapons drawn. Numerous accounts of the accused being spotted noted the same odd and erratic behaviour. The evidence used to establish the events in and around the killing was circumstantial, as there was no direct evidence to be analyzed.
The defence in Belyk focused on witness and expert testimonies that pointed toward the accused being an individual who was in an alternate state of mental reality at the time of the event. Mainly, they highlighted the expert testimony of Dr. Cetaruk, a medical toxicology expert and ER doctor. The Crown decided to not concede that the accused was acting in an odd manner, even though this was mentioned by every witness who saw the accused that evening. The Crown instead put forth that the drugs ingested by the accused would have shown up more readily in the toxicology report and downplayed their effects on the accused.
This tactic used by the Crown was essentially hole-poking. Crown prosecutors in Belyk made minor-detail differences in eye-witness accounts out to be a large part of their case, along with the discrediting of the defence’s expert witnesses. The issue at hand was not whether the accused committed the crime; it was whether the requisite mens rea for a second-degree murder charge was present at the time of the killing.
The crucial role of expert evidence
In my opinion, Belyk was a well-decided case based on the evidence. It can't be ignored that a case such as this, where the outcome rests on the ability of the expert witness to convey what the actual state of the accused was at the time of the incident, could be decided very differently if the accused did not have access to such expert witnesses. Immediately this struck me as a potential access-to-justice issue for those who could not afford such aid.
Expert witnesses provide information in a trial for the judge or jury so they can make a better decision on the issue at hand. They are to be impartial and only testify on subject matter that is pertinent to the trial. Although this can be a fantastic resource for a case, the