As most people - within the criminal justice system or not - are aware, one of the cornerstones of our system is that an individual is presumed innocent unless their guilt has been established beyond a reasonable doubt. But what may be less clear for most people is, what does "beyond a reasonable doubt" mean? It's not a term that you can just simply look up in the dictionary. And while people may think they know what it means, it is a legal term that has significant consequence for accused persons.
Spousal Privilege, the legal doctrine that prohibited a spouse from testifying against their partner, dates back to the 19th Century. This "privilege", which existed at common law, created the spousal incompetency rule, which codified the privilege. Spouses could not testify against their partner, even if they wanted to.
Last week, the Ontario of Appeal heard the appeal of the Christy Natsis case. You may recall the Natsis trial a few years ago: a Pembroke dentist who was charged with impaired driving and driving with over 80 milligrams of alcohol in her system. Ultimately, after 55 days of trial, the trial judge excluded the breath readings because of violations of Ms. Natsis's rights, but convicted her of impaired driving causing death, largely on the expert testimony of the Ontario Provincial Police reconstructionists. The main issue on appeal is whether the trial judge properly allowed the police officers to testify as an expert and provide opinion evidence on the nature of the accident.