Crown rapped for 'duplicative' charges that led to unreasonable verdict
February 28, 2018 - 10:54 AM
TORONTO - Ontario's top court rapped Crown prosecutors on the knuckles on Wednesday for pressing a redundant charge against a woman who hit her sister-in-law in the face with a glass.
The criticism came in a Court of Appeal ruling in which the panel quashed a jury conviction of aggravated assault against Kamalpreet Walia and entered an acquittal instead.
Walia had faced two counts over the incident in which her sister-in-law was injured: aggravated assault and assault with a weapon.
"The two charges in this case arose out of the same conduct," the Appeal Court said. "We can discern no obvious reason why the Crown proceeded with the less serious assault with a weapon charge in addition to the aggravated assault charge."
At trial, Walia admitted wounding her sister-in-law with the glass but maintained she never meant to do so. Instead, she said, the blow was a reflexive reaction to being attacked with a cellphone.
In September 2016 following a nine-day trial, the jury in Brampton, Ont., found Walia guilty of aggravated assault — but not guilty of assault with a weapon. Superior Court Justice Meredith Donohue jailed her for 12 months.
On appeal, Walia argued the jury's verdict was inconsistent, making the guilty finding unreasonable. The prosecution, on the other hand, maintained the verdicts could be reconciled because of instructions Donohue gave to the jury.
Those instructions included the judge's statement that "whether the glass was a weapon comes back to whether you are satisfied that this was an intentional act or an involuntary act."
The Appeal Court rejected the prosecution's arguments and agreed instead with Walia.
"Given the evidence and issues at trial, a properly instructed jury could not render a verdict of guilty to the aggravated assault charge but not guilty to the assault with a weapon charge," the Appeal Court said in its ruling. "Outcomes such as these could be avoided and trials simplified and shortened, if the practice of proceeding with duplicative counts was avoided."
Additionally, the court said, the prosecution made no objection to the jury charge at the time and cannot now claim the unreasonable verdicts can be reconciled on the basis the charge was flawed.
"There is no benefit to speculating about how the jury came to its inconsistent verdicts, whether by way of unprincipled compromise or in response to the flawed instructions."
The Appeal Court declined to order a new trial on the aggravated assault charge as the Crown requested. It would be inappropriate to do so given that the prosecution did not appeal the acquittal, the court said.
"If this court were to order a new trial on the aggravated assault charge, the Appeal Court said, "It would invite a repetition of the very inconsistency that led to the quashing of the conviction."
News from © The Canadian Press, 2018