Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Vetrovec Warning Definition:

Canada: a warning given by a judge to a jury in regards to the frailities of the evidence tendered by certain witnesses.

flag of CanadaAn instruction or warning given to jurors in circumstances where they have received testimony form a witness that may be suspect but the frailties of which may not be self-evident to a juror.

The warning entered Canadian criminal law in the 1982 case of R. v. Vetrovec, in which Justice Dickson of Canada's Supreme Court wrote, at ¶42:

"I would only like to add one or two observations concerning the proper practice to be followed in the trial court, where, as a matter of common sense, something in the nature of confirmatory evidence should be found before the finder of fact relies upon the evidence of a witness whose testimony occupies a central position in the purported demonstration of guilt and yet may be suspect by reason of the witness being an accomplice or complainant or of disreputable character....What may be appropriate, however, in some circumstances is a clear and sharp warning to attract the attention of the juror to the risks of adopting, without more, the evidence of the witness..... All of this applies equally in the case of an accomplice, or a disreputable witness of demonstrated moral lack, as for example a witness with a record of perjury. All this takes one back to the beginning, and that is the search for the impossible: a rule which embodies and codifies common sense in the realm of the process of determining guilt or innocence of an accused on the basis of a record which includes evidence from potentially unreliable sources such as an accomplice."

In R v Chandra, Justice McFayden of the Alberta Court of Appeal added, at ¶10:

"Generally, the (Vetrovec jury) warning will be required where the evidence of the witness is central to the Crown’s case and the credibility issues are major.... The object of the warning is to ensure that the jury is aware of the dangers inherent in the evidence of certain witnesses, dangers of which jurors may not otherwise be aware. The importance of the warning is substantial where the credibility issues may not be readily ascertainable by a juror unfamiliar with legal proceedings. Most often this applies to the evidence of accomplices, who may be seeking to minimize their own involvement, and jail house informers, who often proffer evidence in the hope of gaining some personal advantage. In those circumstances, where the evidence is important to the Crown’s case, a warning is generally mandatory because the inherent frailties of such evidence are not generally known to the ordinary member of a jury. Jurors may not be aware of a witness’s motivation to lie for the purpose of covering up his or her own involvement or gaining personal favours."

In Working Manual of Criminal Law (2009), the authors described the Vetrovec Warning as follows:

"A Vetrovec jury instruction is required for any witness who cannot be trusted to tell the truth under oath, due to his or her amoral character, criminal activities, past dishonesty or inconsistency, or motives to lie.... Failure to give a warning regarding a witness ... whose evidence is important to the Crown's case, is reversible error. The evidence of in-custody informers and accomplices inherently possesses the foregoing frailties, which may not be obvious to jurors; therefore, a warning usually will be required for such witnesses."

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