What Happens to Criminal Charges When the Accused Is Deceased?

October 22, 2023   |   Manbir Sodhi   |  
Criminal Lawyer in Brampton
Criminal Lawyer in Brampton

What Happens to Criminal Charges When the Accused Is Deceased?

Have you wondered what happens when someone who stands accused of a crime passes away before a concrete conviction happens? It’s not as uncommon as you might think. But do the charges fall away, or does the trial keep going posthumously?

If you’re curious about how this process plays out in court, read on to learn what happens to criminal charges when the accused is deceased. The dilemma of someone passing away in the middle of their own trial has two primary considerations: 

  • The influence of public opinion, and
  • The importance of bringing criminals to justice.

The Weight of Public Opinion in Upholding Criminal Charges

Will judges uphold the charges if the defendant dies? Responses to this vary within the public sphere. 

For example, many people believe that even deceased criminals should be brought to justice, whereas others feel that death renders criminal charges pointless. For those in the former category, convicting a deceased criminal holds symbolic weight for the victim or the victim’s loved ones. To end the judicial process as the defendant dies could leave a feeling of incompleteness that some find upsetting.

Another concern surrounds the judicial process as a whole. If offenders aren’t prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law—whether dead or alive—how much do our laws really mean? 

Attaching charges to an individual’s name (even in death) may hold moral significance that many don’t want to compromise. In this case, following through with a criminal case after the defendant dies serves the public’s interest as a whole.

The Ethical and Legal Concerns of Convicting a Deceased Party

While it holds weight for the victim and the general public, it’s a nuanced undertaking to uphold criminal charges against a deceased person. If the defendant dies amid their criminal trial, it could take even more time, money, and resources to convict them in theory rather than actuality. It might seem impractical or like a waste of precious resources.

However, when deciding what happens to criminal charges when the accused is deceased, there are also legalities and ethical concerns at play. For example, according to Subsection 650(1) of the Criminal Code, the accused has a right to be present during their trial. There are exceptions to this subsection, but these will apply only to living defendants. 

Since the accused has a right to be present for the entirety of their trial, is it ethical to attempt to convict them after their passing? Based on the precedent here, many judges will immediately dismiss the charges if the defendant passes away in the middle of the judicial process.

Seek Legal Advice and Assistance in the Ontario Area

Now that you have an idea of what happens to criminal charges when the accused is deceased, you may have more questions about the judicial system and criminal defence process. 

The Law Offices of Manbir Sodhi provide criminal defence and general legal advice – call 905-457-2546 to learn more or get assistance with your case in Ontario.

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