Judge ‘properly applied’ test in sex assault acquittal

The recent acquittal of a Newfoundland man accused of sexual assault is a stellar example of trial fairness rather than a “bold” legal decision, Toronto criminal lawyer Laurelly Dale tells AdvocateDaily.com.

The judge in the case used his ruling to mount a defence of the court’s handling of sexual assault cases more generally, explaining how it was possible to find an accused person not guilty, even though the complainant was credible.

“It is important to understand that when a verdict of not guilty is rendered by a trial judge it does not mean that our criminal trial process is ‘broken’ or that it has ‘failed’ the complainant. It is not necessarily even an indication that the trial judge disbelieved the complainant’s evidence,” Judge Wayne Gorman wrote in the provincial court ruling.

Dale explains that Gorman essentially performed a routine application of a landmark 1991 Supreme Court judgment, which laid out the three-step analysis for assessing an accused person’s credibility when applying the reasonable doubt standard:

  • In the first step, the trial judge must ask whether they believe the testimony provided by the accused. If so, it must result in acquittal. If not, then they must proceed to step two.
  • The second step is for the trial judge to analyze whether the accused person’s evidence results in a reasonable doubt concerning their guilt. If so, an acquittal must be entered. The third step is only required if the answer to both the first and second question is ‘no.’
  • The final step requires the trial judge to consider the totality of the evidence presented by the Crown to determine whether the accused’s guilt has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

“People’s interpretation of justice differs on an individual basis, but the system is set up to deal with those accused of crimes. That’s not to say that complainants should never be believed or that crimes don’t happen to them, but proof beyond a reasonable doubt is a rightfully high standard, because a criminal conviction is a very serious consequence, particularly in proceedings involving allegations of sexual assault,” Dale says.

Originally published in the Advocate Daily March 25th, 2019: https://www.advocatedaily.com/laurelly-dale-judge-properly-applied-test-in-sex-assault-acquittal.html

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