Matthew Nathanson (VC'90)

Matthew Nathanson (VC’90), a twelve year man, is a criminal defence lawyer with his own firm, MN Law. Matthew did his undergraduate studies at Queen’s University and then attended UBC for law school. Upon graduating from law school, Matthew had the privilege to work with the late David Gibbons, Q.C., one of the top criminal lawyers in the country. After working with Mr. Gibbons for a decade, Matthew started his own criminal law firm.

There are many sectors in the field of law. Why did you choose criminal defence? When I was in law school I found criminal law to be the most compelling. Good people sometimes end up in bad situations. Innocent people are sometimes wrongly accused of serious crimes. The power of the state is lined up against the individual. Criminal law is often about fighting for the “little guy”. It is about protecting individual’s rights and counter-balancing the power of the state. However, when I am in court I am not only defending my client. I am also defending everyones’ rights by ensuring that the police play by the rules and respect constitutional rights.

As a criminal defence lawyer, what kind of witnesses do you encounter? My VC science teachers might be pleasantly surprised to know that my work entails a significant amount of scientific knowledge. For example, in murder cases I cross-examine experts such as pathologists, DNA experts, blood spatter experts and ballistics experts. I also regularly encounter technology experts, who attempt to track the location of defendants, listen to their phone calls through wiretaps, or access the “meta-data” on their cell phones.

All of this sounds very CSI-ish. Would you say CSI is an accurate portrayal of what actually happens in a murder case? Yes and no. Many of the issues shown on CSI do arise, but obviously real life and CSI are quite different. In the US, a phenomenon known as “the CSI effect” - believing that science is infallible when it is not - has been a subject of considerable criticism.

Do you have a case that you’d like to share? One of my clients, a mother, was charged with killing her baby. The Crown’s experts believed that the child died as a result of being shaken (“Shaken Baby Syndrome”). We conducted our own investigation. We found a leading expert in Washington DC who reviewed the medical evidence and discovered that the child had a pre-existing brain injury that was triggered when the child fell from a chair and hit her head. It was the pre-existing injury, not shaking, that caused the child’s death. The mother was acquitted. Helping an innocent person wrongly accused of such a horrific allegation was extremely rewarding.

What would you like to say to our graduating seniors and the alumni community? I would like to encourage students to think about law as a career. There are so many different areas of the law and there is something for everyone’s interests and skill-set. Nobody should think a career in the law is out of reach, provided they are willing to work hard.