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Procedure - Pleas - Setting aside guilty plea

Thursday, August 25, 2016 @ 8:00 PM  

Appeal by the accused, Alec, from a conviction for manslaughter. The accused appeared for trial on a count of second degree murder. After two days of evidence, the accused pled guilty to manslaughter. The accused was represented by counsel throughout. The plea resulted from settlement discussions and was accepted by the Crown. A joint submission sought a six-year sentence, less credit. The trial judge accepted the plea, acquitted the accused of second degree murder and entered a conviction for manslaughter. Approximately five months later, the accused appeared for sentencing acting on a self-represented basis. The accused expressed concerns regarding his plea but agreed to proceed with sentencing following discussions with counsel. The trial judge sentenced the accused in accordance with the joint submission. The accused appealed. He submitted that his guilty plea was invalid and that he had a viable defence of self-defence. The accused sought a new trial. He adduced fresh evidence of a Gladue report that addressed “aboriginal fatalism” in the context of the validity of the plea, and his decision to proceed with sentencing in the absence of an application to withdraw the plea.

HELD: Appeal dismissed. There was nothing on the record to suggest that the accused’s plea was anything other than informed, voluntary and unequivocal. The accused was represented by counsel throughout the trial. Competence of counsel was not at issue. The plea resulted from resolution discussions. The accused derived a substantial benefit from the manner of resolution through the acquittal on the murder charge and a joint submission on sentencing. The trial judge conducted a sufficient plea inquiry. Nothing on the record raised concern regarding the voluntariness of the plea, or the accused’s appreciation of the penal consequences. In addition, nothing in the accused’s remarks at sentencing undermined the validity of the plea or obliged the trial judge to embark upon a fresh validity inquiry. The proposed fresh evidence did not alter the fact that the accused’s plea was voluntary, informed and unequivocal when it was entered. The proffered evidence did not meet the test for admissibility. Leaving aside the issue of admissibility, the contention that aboriginal fatalism consistently governed the accused’s conduct was speculative and inconsistent with his actions at sentencing and on appeal.