Stephanie DiGiuseppe

Precedent Setter Awards 2020: Stephanie DiGiuseppe

Meet the defence lawyer who is determined to reform a broken system
Stephanie DiGiuseppe

Stephanie DiGiuseppe

Ruby Shiller 
Enenajor DiGiuseppe
Called to the bar in 2011

The Crown called it a story of street justice, captured on surveillance tape: Christopher Husbands fired 14 bullets in the Toronto Eaton Centre food court and killed two men, one of whom had beaten and stabbed him months before. Stephanie DiGiuseppe, his defence counsel, saw something more complex. “This is a story about trauma,” she says.

Stephanie DiGiuseppeThe trial began in 2014. Alongside Dirk Derstine of Derstine Penman, where she was an associate at the time, DiGiuseppe argued that Husbands suffered from PTSD as a result of his assault. The legal duo meticulously examined the psychiatric witnesses through the trial and the subsequent retrial — even after, in 2018, she joined the defence firm that’s now called Ruby Shiller Enenajor DiGiuseppe — laying out the case that Husbands was in a dissociative state at the time of the shooting and should receive a lesser charge than first- or second-degree murder. “I honestly did not think the jury would buy it,” says her law partner Annamaria Enenajor.

In the end, they found that his mental health was relevant. Early last year, when DiGiuseppe was eight months pregnant with twins, Husbands was found guilty of manslaughter; in November, he received a life sentence with credit for time served. “Stephanie pushes the law to a place where she thinks it could be more compassionate,” Enenajor says.

That commitment to justice extends beyond the courtroom. DiGiuseppe raises funds for Peacebuilders Canada, which uses restorative justice to divert young people from the criminal system. “I believe so strongly that we should look at the earliest intervention points to prevent crime,” says the 35-year-old. Working with Enenajor at the Campaign for Cannabis Amnesty, she is pushing the government to expunge criminal records related to cannabis possession. And she has lobbied federal and provincial ministers to end solitary confinement. “I’ve watched the mental health of my clients disintegrate in conditions no human should be kept in,” says DiGiuseppe, who spent four months fighting to get a client a radio in segregation (she bought it herself). “Broad advocacy is one thing. I’m also trying to make my client’s life a little better.”

Don’t forget to read about our other amazing winners.

This story is from our Summer 2020 Issue.

Photography by Steph Martyniuk; set design by James Reiger; hair and makeup by Michelle Calleja.