Drunk driving charge thrown out because of driver’s temporary amnesia

A provincial court judge in northwestern Ontario has acquitted a suspected impaired driver after accepting that the defendant may have been in a dissociative state that was triggered by anxiety

Justice Peter Bishop concluded the Crown had not proven the defendant had the mens rea for a conviction, despite blood alcohol readings well over the legal limit.

“This is a case with very special circumstances and facts,” the judge stated, in acquitting Jerry Enns, a 61-year-old man from Manitoba.

The court heard that in the fall of 2013, an Ontario Provincial Police officer followed a pickup truck with Manitoba plates that was travelling erratically on the highway, just west of Dryden.

The vehicle ended up in a field. There was a Budweiser in the cup holder and Enns told police he did not stop, because he was looking for a place to go to the bathroom. Two intoxilyzer readings taken by police registered .147 and .133.

Enns testified he remembered getting his tools and planning to go to work in Winnipeg, but had no recollection of driving to Dryden, a distance of about 350 kilometres.

The defendant had similar episodes on three other occasions, including one that also involved drinking and driving. Enns testified his licence was taken away twice for impaired driving offences and it has been suspended since the end of 2013 as a result of his medical condition.

The results of MRI tests and a CAT scan were normal. A psychiatrist who has been treating Enns testified that his actions may be explained by a dissociative fugue (amnesia) that is temporary.

Dr. Mandana Modirrousta, who is also a professor at the University of Manitoba, explained the episodes may have been caused by anxiety disorders. While Enns is older than most people who have had incidents of temporary amnesia, the doctor said the possibility could not be ruled out.

If the defendant was in a dissociative state when he was driving, he would not understand what he was doing, the doctor said.

The defence argued Enns’s condition could be compared to automatism and he was not in control of his actions. The Crown suggested it was simply a loss of memory.

While it was impossible to determine whether or not Enns was in a dissociative state at the time he was driving, “that remains a possibility,” said Bishop in his ruling issued this week. Based on the testimony of the doctor, the defendant and the police officer, the judge said he had a reasonable doubt as to whether Enns had the intent to commit the offence of impaired driving.

Update 1:48 pm: Lead recast.

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