His Majesty The King v. William Victor Schneider
(British Columbia) (Criminal) (As of Right)
Criminal law - Evidence, Admissibility - Criminal law - Evidence - Admissibility - Relevancy - Overheard telephone conversation - Whether the trial judge erred in admitting statements made by the accused during a phone conversation, overheard by the accused’s brother.
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Following a jury trial, the respondent, William Victor Schneider, was convicted of second degree murder and interfering with a body after death, contrary to ss. 235(1) and 182(b) of the Criminal Code, R.S.C. 1985, c. C-46.
Before the Court of Appeal, the respondent submitted that the murder conviction should be set aside and a new trial ordered. He argued that the trial judge erred in admitting statements made during a telephone conversation overheard by his brother; erred in her instructions to the jury; and mishandled a question posed by the jury. A majority of the Court of Appeal allowed the appeal and ordered a new trial on the count of second degree murder. The majority dismissed the second and third grounds of appeal but held that the trial judge erred in admitting the overheard conversation. In its view, no properly instructed jury could conclude that the overheard statements were an admission. Accordingly, they were not relevant and it was an error to admit them into evidence and put them before the jury.
In dissent, DeWitt-Van Oosten J.A. would have dismissed all three grounds of appeal and therefore the appeal from conviction. In her view, the overheard telephone conversation statements were properly admitted into evidence. The trial judge correctly determined that the overheard statements were logically relevant to an issue at trial and the respondent did not demonstrate error in the trial judge’s exercise of discretion on legal relevance or the weighing of probative value and prejudicial effect. To the dissenting judge, the trial judge properly left the meaning of the impugned words and their weight with the jury. A functional review of the charge to the jury revealed the instructions sufficiently cautioned the jury on use.
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