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ELEMENTS OF THE OFFENCE - Mens rea - Presumption of fitness to stand trial

Tuesday, December 22, 2020 @ 6:49 AM  

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Appeal by the accused from conviction for second degree murder. The appellant attacked a prison cellmate. The cell video showed the appellant applying chokeholds and neck compressions to the victim over a couple of time periods. The victim died of hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy caused by neck compression. The appellant subsequently stated he heard voices that ordered him to kill the victim. The appellant was using crystal methamphetamine and admitted to inhalation of methamphetamine four to five days prior to the incident. The appellant’s first trial ended in a mistrial. He was found to be fit to stand trial prior to both trials. At his second trial the appellant was self-represented, and amicus was appointed. When the Crown closed its case, the amicus asked the trial judge to order a fitness assessment since the appellant had taken no meaningful steps in his own defence and was passive, if not disinterested. The trial judge saw no basis to find that the extent to which appellant had participated or not participated in the proceedings raised a concern respecting fitness and denied the request. The appellant argued the trial was unfair because the trial judge failed to appreciate the test for a fitness assessment and failed to order the assessment when requested to do so by the amicus, leading to a miscarriage of justice. He also argued the trial judge erred in her analysis of the mens rea for murder and her reasons did not explain why the evidence elicited did not undermine murderous intent.

HELD: Appeal dismissed. The trial judge committed no error in dismissing the assessment application. The amicus made no submissions that he was unable to communicate with the appellant and the record suggested he was able to communicate with the appellant. The trial judge was provided with four assessments completed in the prior two years which all found the appellant to be fit. While the earlier findings of fitness to stand trial were not in and of themselves determinative of the application, the totality of evidence before the trial judge did not establish reasonable grounds to believe the appellant was unfit to stand trial at the time the application was made. The trial judge made no error in the statements of law regarding mens rea for murder. Her reasons demonstrated that she was cognizant that a mental disorder might be relevant in considering the issue of intent. Her reasons do not suggest she reversed the burden of proof. Her reasons as a whole demonstrated how she arrived at her decision on the issue of intent. She was entitled to find that the appellant’s after the fact statements did not raise a reasonable doubt with respect to the application of the common sense inference when considered along with all the other evidence.

R. v. Ledesma, [2020] A.J. No. 1254, Alberta Court of Appeal, M.S. Paperny, E.A. Hughes and K.P. Feehan JJ.A., November 19, 2020. Digest No. TLD-December212020004