No reasonable doubt simply because witness was intoxicated: Alberta Court of Appeal

Accused argued level of intoxication cast shadow of doubt over account of incident

No reasonable doubt simply because witness was intoxicated: Alberta Court of Appeal

The court is not precluded from accepting the evidence of a witness who was intoxicated at the time an allegation arose simply because of the witness’ intoxication, the Alberta Court of Appeal has ruled.

In R v. Morin-Poitras, 2022 ABCA 216, Jesse Morin-Poitras challenged his convictions of unlawful confinement, uttering threats, choking during an assault, dangerous driving, and causing bodily harm. The charges arose from an incident on the evening of January 24, 2021. Morin-Poitras picked up the complainant and her friend from a Days Inn in Edmonton. During the drive, and after consuming alcohol, Morin-Poitras and the complainant argued in the car. Morin-Poitras allegedly refused to disengage the child lock and, when the complainant finally managed to get out of the vehicle, he grabbed her shoulder, sat on her, pinned her arms down, and struck her multiple times in the face. He strangled her and threatened to kill her. Then, Morin-Poitras got back into his vehicle and recklessly ran over the complainant’s legs, ankle and foot as she lay in the snowbank.

The complainant’s friend, Diamond Alexander – who was present at the time of the incident –, was presented as the Crown’s witness. On appeal, the accused argued that he did not know the child safety lock was engaged. He also asserted that the complainant was not a credible or reliable witness because she was heavily intoxicated at the time of the alleged offences and key points of her testimony were not supported by the prosecution witness, Alexander. Further, the accused said that Alexander was likewise intoxicated so she could not possibly remember much of that night and she did not see the alleged choking incident or when Morin-Poitras used his vehicle to run over the complainant.

“All of this points to ‘reasonable doubt’ and the level of intoxication casts a huge shadow of doubt over whether any of this actually happened,” Morin-Poitras said.

No misapprehension of evidence

The court warned that misapprehension of evidence should not be confused with a different interpretation of the evidence than what the trial judge adopted.  The court said, “any misapprehension must be ‘readily obvious’ and go to the substance rather than the detail.”

The court noted that the trial judge was well-aware of the complainant’s level of intoxication, and that the Crown’s witness could not recall some of the collateral details of what happened. However, the court said that the trial judge was not precluded from accepting the evidence of a witness who was intoxicated at the time the allegation arose simply because the witness was intoxicated. It was the trial judge’s role to assess that testimony and assign weight to it. It was not the function of the appellate court to reweigh the evidence on appeal.

The court concluded that the trial judge did not misapprehend evidence. Rather, his assessment of the complainant’s evidence and the resulting findings of fact were reasonable and supported on the record.

Unlawful confinement

Existing jurisprudence provides two elements for unlawful confinement – that the accused confined the victim, and the confinement was unlawful. The victim must be actually, physically restrained or restrained by fear, intimidation, and psychological or other means.

In this case, the court found no evidence to support Morin-Poitras’ contention that he did not know that the child safety lock was engaged in his vehicle. Rather, the court found that the complainant asked the accused to let her get out of the vehicle, but he refused. In addition, the complainant did not know where she was at the time of the incident, she did not have her cellular phone with her, and she did not feel safe. Consequently, the court concluded that the trial judge’s finding of unlawful confinement was reasonable based on the evidentiary record before her.

After considering each of the grounds for appeal raised by the accused, the court concluded that judicial intervention was not warranted on any of them. The appeal was dismissed.

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