Admission of Mr. Big Statement upheld on appeal in Calgary
The Alberta Court of Appeal recently upheld the admissibility of a “Mr. Big” statement made by one of the accuseds in a tragic case where a young life was lost too soon: R. v. Magoon, 2016 ABCA 412. “Mr. Big” is an operation in which police create a fictitious organized criminal organization and over time seduce the target to join. Once the target has joined, he is tested by committing criminal acts such as theft and fraud. Once the target has proven their criminal worth, they are asked to divulge previous criminal activity and information. It is during this phase of the undercover operation that police hope to elicit a confession for crimes in which the target is under investigation. These statements are often challenged in court due to their inherent unreliability.
Magoon was the common law partner of the accused Jordan, whose young daughter died as a result of severe injuries sustained while staying with the couple for a week. Both of the accuseds claimed the injuries were a result of an accidental fall. The medical evidence did not support this claim and the accuseds were charged with first-degree murder and unlawful confinement in Calgary.
The Calgary Police Service conducted an eight-month long “Mr. Big” undercover operation targeting both accused. Based on admissions that were made, police charged both with murder. At trial in the Alberta Court, the statements were ruled admissible and Magoon was subsequently convicted of second-degree murder in beating death of the six‑year‑old child.
The Court of Appeal found that the trial judge was alive to concerns that Mr. Big operations run the risk of being abusive; confessions may be unreliable; participation in the fictitious criminal organization carries the risk of prejudice and sullies the accuseds’ character. The Court of Appeal agreed with the trial judge that there were significant markers of reliability in the Mr. Big statements that overcame the prejudicial effect of the evidence. Importantly, some of the information provided was consistent with the medical evidence of which the accuseds were not privy to. This reliability saved the statements from exclusion and the trial judge’s ruling was upheld.
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