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PROCEDURE - Trial judge’s duties - Assessing credibility of witnesses  

Monday, May 11, 2020 @ 9:29 AM  


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Appeal by the Crown from the acquittal of the accused, Faucher, following a manslaughter trial. The accused’s domestic partner died in hospital from an injury sustained through blunt force trauma to the head. The victim had a history of head injuries that caused brain damage that impacted her vision and balance. The only individuals present when the fatal injury occurred were the accused and the victim’s daughter, age 8. The Crown’s theory was that the injury was inflicted by the accused during a domestic violence incident. The Crown believed that the accused either assaulted the victim directly or pushed her into the wall where she struck her head. The accused testified that the victim fell while getting into bed and hit her head on the drywall above her pillow. The accused further testified that in the days prior, the victim fell on stairs and hit her head. The victim’s daughter testified that the couple had an argument in which both parties became physical with one another two nights prior to the victim’s death and argued again the night prior to the victim’s death. The daughter testified that the accused punched the victim in the face two days’ prior. The accused testified that the daughter witnessed nothing more than a play fight. The trial involved extensive expert medical evidence. The trial judge found that the medical evidence did not clearly contradict the accused’s account, and that there were reliability concerns regarding the daughter’s testimony. The trial judge concluded he was not convinced of the accused’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The accused was acquitted. The Crown appealed.

HELD: Appeal dismissed. The trial judge did not err in law by failing to appreciate the relevance of certain evidence related to domestic abuse, as the credibility assessments were determinative of the prior domestic violence issue and could not be overcome by shortcomings in the forensic evidence. The trial judge did not fail to consider the totality of the evidence. The trial judge was not obliged to specify every detail of the evidence presented. It was clear that the judge was alive to the evidence of the fight between the couple two days prior to the victim’s passing. Taking a different view than the Crown of that evidence did not constitute a legal error. The trial judge did not err in the application of the standard of proof by taking a piecemeal approach to the evidence. The trial judge addressed the Crown’s theory and concluded it was not proven that the accused used force to propel the victim into the wall, causing her death given that reasonable doubt remained over whether the victim accidentally fell.

R. v. Faucher, [2020] S.J. No. 85, Saskatchewan Court of Appeal, R.K. Ottenbreit, P.A. Whitmore and J.A. Ryan-Froslie JJ.A., March 18, 2020. Digest No. TLD-May112020002