Nova Scotia - The Supreme Court of Canada on Friday overturned the acquittal of an abused wife who hired a hit man to kill her husband, rejecting her duress defense, but also refused to send her to jail.
Nova Scotia high school teacher Nicole Ryan claimed at trial that she feared her “violent, abusing and controlling husband” would harm or kill her and her daughter.
She insisted that she had no safe avenue of escape other than having him killed after her repeated calls to police for help went unanswered.
Ryan was arrested in 2008 after hiring what turned out to be an undercover policemen for the hit, paying him a $2 000 deposit and giving him a photograph of her estranged husband.
She was acquitted at trial, after claiming duress.
Supreme Court Justices Louis LeBel and Thomas Cromwell said in an 8-1 decision that it was “disquieting” that police seemed “much quicker to intervene to protect Mr. Ryan than they had been to respond to her request for help in dealing with his reign of terror over her.”
However, the court rejected Ryan's duress defense.
While similar to self-defense, which is based on a premise that it is lawful to meet force with force, duress usually applies when a person is forced to commit a crime against their will.
Ryan's lawyers did not argue self-defense at trial and so it is unclear if such a defense would have succeeded in this case.
Regardless, the high court ruled that “it would not be fair” to subject Ryan to another trial, saying the abuse she suffered and five years of legal proceedings have taken an “enormous toll” on her.
Since her arrest, Ryan's ex-husband and their daughter have reportedly disappeared.