Moncton murder case to go straight to trial, skipping preliminary hearing
The man accused of murdering Max Boudreau in Moncton will go straight to trial without a preliminary hearing.
Justin Barrow, 42, of Moncton faces a charge of first-degree murder alleging he killed the 24-year-old on Nov. 15, 2022.
Barrow was scheduled to appear in Moncton provincial court on Monday to set dates for a preliminary hearing, but the appearance was cancelled.
Crown prosecutor Annie St-Jacques filed for a direct indictment last week, a rarely-used step that means Barrow's case will go to trial without a preliminary hearing.
The hearing is held for a judge to hear the Crown's evidence to determine if it is sufficient to proceed to trial. Barrow's hearing was expected to last three weeks.
Barrow's lawyer Martin Goguen didn't comment Tuesday. St-Jacques did not return a request for comment.
No reason made public
A direct indictment needs to be approved by either the province's attorney general or their deputy.
No reason for the move is indicated in the court paperwork signed by St-Jacques and Michael Comeau, New Brunswick's deputy attorney general. A spokesperson for the Office of the Attorney General said the province won't comment on the indictment decision.
While the defence can opt to waive a preliminary hearing, a direct indictment removes the choice.
Gilles Lemieux, who is not involved in Barrow's case, said in an interview that the hearings can be an important step in understanding the Crown's case.
"When it doesn't happen at a first-degree murder trial, it certainly hamstrings the defence," Lemieux said.
"It's critical to be able to assess the demeanour and the delivery of the evidence. It's every bit as important as the the evidence itself, especially when you go in front of a jury. You really want to know who you're talking to before you take them on."
Defence lawyers will sometimes use testimony from such hearings in the later trial if a person's testimony changes or they are not co-operative.
The Public Prosecutions Operational Manual says a direct indictment is appropriate if the charge meets the normal charge-approval standard, and if "public interest requires that the matter be brought directly to trial."
The manual lays out 15 grounds that could trigger the public interest threshold.
They include delays that risk violating a person's right to be tried in a reasonable time, a complex case involving numerous witnesses and lengthy testimony and to avoid multiple proceedings.
A 2016 Supreme Court of Canada ruling sets a limit of 18 months between the laying of charges and the actual or anticipated end of a trial in provincial court. In the Court of King's Bench, where a murder trial would take place, the ceiling is 30 months.
There were signs of concerns about delays when Barrow was last in provincial court Feb. 27.
Judge Brigitte Volpé said a three-week preliminary hearing would require a judge from outside Moncton. But she said the chief judge needs to give approval. Volpé said the lawyers should have looked into the issue before the February appearance.
"Mr. Barrow is in custody, so we'll need a faster date than usual," Volpé said, later saying it would need to be scheduled within two months.
Boudreau disappeared after leaving a strip club in Dieppe on Nov. 15 and was reported missing on Nov. 17. His body was found Nov. 22 in a wooded area in Irishtown, just north of Moncton.
Barrow was arrested the same day that Boudreau's remains were found. He was charged Nov. 23 and has been in custody since then.
While the preliminary hearing won't take place because of the direct indictment, documents filed indicate a three-week voir dire is expected before a month-long trial. A voir dire is held to determine if evidence will be admissible at trial.
Barrow is now scheduled to appear in court April 3.