What Happens to Criminal Charges when the Accused is Deceased?

What Happens to Criminal Charges when the Accused is Deceased?

When it comes to criminal law, an issue seldom discussed is what happens to criminal charges when the accused dies before the charge is disposed of. In this instance, do criminal charges remain even after the accused has died? And, further, if an accused dies before the charge is disposed of, does the charge remain or is it automatically canceled?

The issue of what becomes of criminal charges when the accused perishes before charges are disposed of is discussed in Ssenyonga, [1993] O.J. No. 3273. The excerpts of the matter included below shed some light on the issue in question.

The Need to Punish the Accused and Protect the Public

The trial had terminated due to the death of the accused. The death of an accused before the end of a criminal trial would ordinarily abate the trial. The issue of the accused’s guilt, and the need to punish the accused and protect the public, becomes academic upon the death of an accused.

Rendering a Judgment

…Mr. Ssenyonga is now beyond the reach of this court and there can be no doubt that the issues in this trial are moot. The real question is whether I should issue judgment notwithstanding that fact.

… I find that the rendering of judgment would have no practical effect in determining the matters in issue between the State and the late Mr. Ssenyonga and that the circumstances militate against my delivering judgment.

The Right of the Accused to be Present

…There is a further aspect of the situation that I have considered. Subsection 650(1) of the Criminal Code requires an accused other than a corporation to be present in court during the whole of his trial. Certain exceptions to this general rule are stated in s-s. 650(2), which delineates the circumstances in which the accused may be excluded from his trial. In my opinion, the wording of the subsections proclaiming the exceptions presupposes a living person. An accused has the right, subject to an order for exclusion upon proper grounds, to be present during his entire trial and thereby to obtain direct knowledge of anything that happens during the trial that affects his fundamental interests.

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