Verdicts of not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder in adult criminal courts, 2005/2006-2011/2012

By Zoran Miladinovic and Jennifer Lukassen

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A fundamental concept in the Canadian justice system is the premise that an individual must have the capacity to understand that his or her behaviour was wrong in order to be found guilty of a criminal offence (Latimer and Lawrence 2006). The verdict of not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder (NCRMD) is a final decision reached when a judge or jury finds that an accused was suffering from a mental disorder while committing the criminal act and as a result is exempt from criminal responsibility (Criminal Code, R.S.C. 1985, s.672.34). An individual found NCRMD is neither acquitted nor found guilty (Latimer and Lawrence 2006); the court or Review Board1 may make one of three dispositions: absolute discharge, conditional discharge, or detention in a hospital (Criminal Code, R.S.C. 1985, s.672.54).

Using data from the Integrated Criminal Court Survey (ICCS), this Juristat bulletin presents the most recent information available on completed cases in adult criminal court, where at least one charge in the case received a final decision of NCRMD. Data were examined from fiscal year 2005/2006 through to 2011/2012 from ten provinces and territories; however data from Quebec, Yukon, and the Northwest Territories were unavailable. In addition, superior court data were unavailable for Prince Edward Island, Ontario, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan.

NCRMD cases represent a small proportion of adult criminal court cases

According to the ICCS, from 2005/2006 to 2011/2012, there were a total of 1,908 adult cases2 in the reporting jurisdictions which received a final decision of NCRMD for at least one charge in the case (Table 1). Over this time frame, the number of NCRMD cases completed annually ranged from 252 to 292. NCRMD cases represented less than 1% of adult criminal court cases processed annually for each of the ten reporting provinces and territories and this proportion remained relatively stable over the period studied.

Table 1
Not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder (NCRMD)Note 1Note 2 cases completed in adult criminal courts, selected jurisdictions, 2005/2006-2011/2012
Table summary
This table displays the results of Not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder (NCRMD) cases completed in adult criminal courts. The information is grouped by Jurisdiction (appearing as row headers), Case fiscal year, 2005/2006, 2006/2007, 2007/2008, 2008/2009, 2009/2010, 2010/2011 and 2011/2012, calculated using number units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Jurisdiction   Case fiscal year
2005/2006 2006/2007 2007/2008 2008/2009 2009/2010 2010/2011 2011/2012
number
Newfoundland & Labrador NCRMD 1 0 0 0 0 1 5
All non-NCRMD 5,064 4,808 5,229 5,398 5,767 5,781 5,919
Prince Edward Island NCRMD 0 0 0 0 0 3 0
All non-NCRMD 1,271 1,424 1,424 1,328 1,447 1,531 1,340
Nova Scotia NCRMD 19 39 29 31 26 25 31
All non-NCRMD 11,798 11,706 12,564 12,927 13,498 13,242 12,325
New Brunswick NCRMD 25 29 29 31 22 33 37
All non-NCRMD 7,530 7,628 7,712 8,158 8,689 8,421 8,122
Ontario NCRMD 155 139 149 178 152 158 147
All non-NCRMD 147,652 149,241 151,417 151,635 156,626 161,197 149,701
Manitoba NCRMD 6 7 3 9 5 8 4
All non-NCRMD 17,845 16,557 16,574 17,563 18,590 19,100 18,316
Saskatchewan NCRMD 0 0 0 0 2 1 0
All non-NCRMD 21,410 17,654 22,127 22,605 23,496 25,157 23,036
Alberta NCRMD 18 7 16 10 15 16 13
All non-NCRMD 53,703 54,651 56,932 57,867 59,840 57,814 53,750
British Columbia NCRMD 55 47 36 33 30 35 31
All non-NCRMD 44,192 44,859 47,785 46,967 46,614 44,529 41,008
Nunavut NCRMD 5 1 1 0 0 0 0
All non-NCRMD 1,535 1,528 1,821 1,948 1,624 1,962 1,916
TOTAL NCRMD 284 269 263 292 252 280 268
All non-NCRMD 312,000 310,056 323,585 326,396 336,191 338,734 315,433

The rate of NCRMD cases for reporting jurisdictions has also remained fairly stable over time (Chart 1) varying from approximately 7.5 cases per 10,000 completed adult criminal court cases a year to about 9.1 per 10,000.

Chart 1

Description for chart 1

The rate of NCRMD cases varies among reporting jurisdictions. New Brunswick had the highest rate of adult NCRMD cases, ranging from about 25 to 45 per 10,000 completed adult criminal court cases. Nova Scotia and New Brunswick had rates that were consistently above the total rate for all reporting jurisdictions. Ontario and British Columbia had rates of NCRMD cases that were very similar to the total rate for all reporting jurisdictions.3

One in five NCRMD cases involved major assault

Almost two-thirds (63%) of NCRMD cases where the most serious decision4 in the case was NCRMD involved crimes against the person. Major assault was the most frequent offence, representing about 20% of these NCRMD cases (Table 2). Uttering threats (11%), weapon offences (7%), common assault (7%), and other crimes against the person (6%), together with major assault, accounted for more than half of the offences in these cases.

Table 2
Not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder (NCRMD)Note 1Note 2 cases completed in adult criminal courts, by type of offence, 2005/2006-2011/2012 combined
Table summary
This table displays the results of Not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder (NCRMD) cases completed in adult criminal courts. The information is grouped by Type of offence (appearing as row headers), NCRMD and Non-NCRMD, calculated using number and percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Type of offence NCRMD Non-NCRMD
number percent number percent
Total completed cases 1,908 100 2,262,395 100
Total completed cases where most serious decision was NCRMD 1,058 100 Note ...: not applicable Note ...: not applicable
Homicide 13 1 1,814 0
Attempted murder 29 3 946 0
Robbery 36 3 22,981 1
Sexual assault 49 5 23,006 1
Other sexual offences 8 1 10,957 0
Major assault 210 20 118,288 5
Common assault 78 7 235,054 10
Uttering threats 119 11 92,892 4
Criminal harassment 57 5 16,726 1
Other crimes against persons 64 6 15,783 1
Theft 22 2 248,727 11
Break and enter 53 5 61,023 3
Fraud 10 1 86,152 4
Mischief 46 4 86,420 4
Possess stolen property 14 1 78,127 3
Other property crimes 18 2 10,751 0
Fail to appear 3 0 33,920 2
Breach of probation 31 3 172,857 8
Unlawfully at large 2 0 13,192 1
Fail to comply with order 27 3 216,249 10
Other administration of justice offences 17 2 51,860 2
Weapon offences 78 7 56,791 3
Prostitution 0 0 10,740 0
Disturbing the peace 2 0 12,505 1
Residual Criminal Code offences 23 2 23,878 1
Impaired driving 1 0 257,012 11
Other Criminal Code traffic offences 44 4 66,960 3
Drug possession 0 0 106,454 5
Other drug offences 3 0 85,879 4
Youth Criminal Justice Act/Young Offenders Act 0 0 9,130 0
Residual federal statute offences 1 0 35,321 2

Among adult non-NCRMD criminal court cases, about one-quarter (24%) involved crimes against the person. Impaired driving (11%), theft (11%), common assault (10%), failure to comply with orders (10%), and breach of probation (8%) were the most frequent offences.

NCRMD cases involved slightly older accused than non-NCRMD cases

For NCRMD cases completed in adult court over the period studied, the median5 age of accused at the time of offence was 34 years. In comparison, the median age in non-NCRMD criminal court cases was 31 years. One in five (20%) NCRMD cases involved accused aged 18-24 (Chart 2). This is in contrast to about one-third (31%) of adult non-NCRMD criminal court cases. The largest proportion of NCRMD cases involved accused aged 25-34 (30%), while for non-NCRMD cases the majority involved accused ages 18-24 (31%). Further, 18% of NCRMD cases involved accused aged 45-54, while 13% of non-NCRMD cases involved accused in this age group.

Chart 2

Description for chart 2

A large majority of adult NCRMD cases6 involved male accused (87%), while approximately 13% involved female accused. The NCRMD cases were slightly more likely to involve male accused than were the non-NCRMD criminal court cases, where approximately 81% of accused were male and 19% were female.

NCRMD cases took longer to complete than non-NCRMD criminal court cases

The length of time from first court appearance to case completion was longer for NCRMD cases than for non-NCRMD criminal court cases. The median amount of time taken to complete adult NCRMD cases was 132 days, which is 17% longer than the 113 days taken for non-NCRMD criminal court cases.

Most completed cases in adult court that had at least one charge resulting in a final decision of NCRMD took longer than one month to complete, with only a small proportion (7%) being completed in 30 days or less (Chart 3). A much larger proportion of adult non-NCRMD criminal court cases were completed in 30 days or less (26%). NCRMD cases most commonly lasted 121-240 days (26%), while non-NCRMD criminal court cases most commonly lasted 1-30 days (26%). Both NCRMD and non-NCRMD criminal court cases had relatively few cases that lasted more than 240 days, at about 28% and 27%, respectively.

 

Chart 3

Description for chart 3

Text box 1
Youth court cases involving NCRMD

Similar to adults, a verdict of NCRMD may also be reached in cases involving youth accused. Over the period of 2005/2006 to 2011/2012, there were a total of 69 cases completed in youth court (involving accused aged 12-17) where at least one charge received a final decision of NCRMD.  Rates per 10,000 completed youth cases ranged from about 1.4/10,000 to 4.0/10,000 per year, which was less than the adult NCRMD rate.

The median age at the time of offence for NCRMD cases completed in youth court was 16 years old. Approximately 73% of cases involved male accused, compared to about 87% for adult cases.

Similar to adult cases, youth cases most often involved major assault (36%). This was followed by uttering threats (12%), weapon offences (10%), common assault (10%), and Youth Criminal Justice Act offences (10%).

The median amount of time from first court appearance to case completion for youth NCRMD cases was 84 days, much shorter than adult NCRMD cases (132 days).

End of text box.

Summary

There were a total of 1,908 adult criminal court cases completed in ten reporting jurisdictions over the period of 2005/2006-2011/2012 that had at least one charge with a final decision of not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder (NCRMD). The rate of NCRMD cases for the ten reporting jurisdictions has remained relatively stable over time, varying from 7.5 per 10,000 to 9.1 per 10,000 adult criminal court cases.

Crimes against the person were much more common in NCRMD cases than in non-NCRMD criminal court cases. The median age at time of offence for NCRMD accused was 34 years and compared to non-NCRMD accused, there were relatively few NCRMD accused aged 18-24, but more accused in all the other age groups. Very few NCRMD cases lasted 30 days or less (7%) and NCRMD cases had a longer median duration (132 days) than non-NCRMD criminal court cases (113 days).

Survey description

Data used in this article are drawn from the Integrated Criminal Court Survey (ICCS). The ICCS is intended to be a census of pending and completed federal statute charges heard in provincial/territorial and superior courts in Canada. The ICCS collects appearance-level data and derives two basic units of count: completed charges and completed cases.

The primary unit of analysis is a case, which is defined as one or more charges against an accused person or company that were processed by the courts at the same time and received a final decision. A decision is a judgement made by the court. A decision may be final or non-final. A case combines all charges against the same person having one or more key overlapping dates (date of offence, date of initiation, date of first appearance, date of decision, or date of sentencing) into a single case. Only cases that received a final decision for all charges are included in this analysis. Examples of final decisions include: guilty, acquitted, stay, withdrawn, dismissed, and NCRMD.

Rates per 10,000 completed cases were used in this analysis to create a standardized measure of the frequency of NCRMD cases, allowing for comparisons over time to be made between or within the reporting jurisdictions.

In non-NCRMD cases, a case that has more than one charge is represented by the charge with the most serious decision. In cases where two or more charges result in the same decision, the charge with the most serious offence type is selected according to an offence seriousness scale.

In NCRMD cases, cases in which at least one charge resulted in a final decision of NCRMD, irrespective of whether the decision was the most serious decision, were used in this analysis.

For this analysis, ICCS coverage reflects all cases completed in adult Canadian criminal courts with the exception of superior courts in Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, as well as municipal courts in Quebec. Additionally, Quebec, Yukon, and the Northwest Territories did not report data on decisions of NCRMD. Data could not be extracted from these information systems and was therefore unavailable. This may lead to an underestimation of the number of completed cases.

Out of scope for the ICCS are appeal court data, federal court data, and Supreme Court data (Statistics Canada 2013). While the ICCS has the built-in capacity to collect information related to specialized mental health court appearances, there are limitations in the ability to distinguish these courts from traditional criminal courts. The main difficulty lies in the fact that specialized mental health courts are not always dedicated facilities and take place in courtrooms with multiple uses, which makes them difficult to identify using individual courtroom numbers, for example (Sinha 2009).

References

Criminal Code, R.S.C. 1985, c. C-46.

Latimer J and A Lawrence. 2006. The Review Board systems in Canada: An overview of results from the Mentally Disordered Accused Data Collection Study. Department of Justice Canada no. Rr06-1e.

Sinha M. 2009. An investigation into the feasibility of collecting data on the involvement of adults and youth with mental health issues in the criminal justice system. Statistics Canada catalogue no. 85-561-M.

Statistics Canada. 2013. “Integrated Criminal Court Survey (ICCS)”. http://www23.statcan.gc.ca:81/imdb/p2SV.pl?Function=getSurvey&lang=en&db=imdb&adm=8&dis=2&SDDS=3312. (Accessed February 25, 2014).

Notes

  1. Review Boards are specialized provincial/territorial tribunals that conduct individual assessments of accused found not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder and make dispositions that are aimed at protecting the public and helping to re-integrate the accused back into society (Latimer and Lawrence 2006). Review Board data are out of scope for the Integrated Criminal Court Survey (ICCS) and therefore are not examined in this article.
  2. A case is one or more charges against an accused person that were processed by the courts at the same time and received a final decision (Statistics Canada 2013). Completed cases that had at least one charge with a final decision of not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder were included.
  3. Among the jurisdictions that reported both superior and provincial/territorial court data (Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Alberta, British Columbia, and Nunavut) a small proportion of NCRMD cases were heard in superior courts, with BC having the highest proportion at 7%.
  4. When a case involves two or more charges, one of the charges is selected to represent the case. Court decisions for each charge in a case are ranked from most to least serious as follows: (1) guilty, (2) guilty of a lesser offence, (3) acquitted, (4) stay of proceeding, (5) withdrawn, dismissed, or discharged, (6) NCRMD, (7) other, and (8) transfer of court jurisdiction.
  5. The median is the middle point of a distribution, when the units are arranged in increasing or decreasing order based on a quantitative variable (such as age). One-half of the group is above the median and one-half below it.
  6. Excluding cases where sex was unknown.
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