Defendants accused of violent crimes like murder and sexual assault may use self-induced extreme intoxication – known as “non-mental disorder automatism” – as a defense in a criminal court, Canada’s Supreme Court decided on Friday.
According to the court, a 1995 law that prohibits this kind of defense was against Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“Its impact on the principles of fundamental justice is disproportionate to its overarching public benefits. It should therefore be declared unconstitutional and of no force or effect,”Justice Nicholas Kasirer made the following point.
The law violated the Charter because the defendant’s decision to become intoxicated doesn’t mean that he or she was planning to commit a violent offense, Kasirer explained. He also said that it allowed the courts to convict someone without needing to prove ill intent.
Three cases were involved in the Supreme Court case. David Sullivan, a Calgary resident, took a psychotic drug that can cause schizophrenia and attempted suicide in 2013. He ended up stabbing to death his mother.
Sullivan was prohibited from using the defense against extreme intoxication and was convicted for aggravated assault as well as assault with a weapon. A Court of Appeals later ruled the ban on this type of defense to be unconstitutional, and acquitted Sullivan of both charges.
Prosecutors appealed that ruling at the Supreme Court, which confirmed Sullivan’s acquittal with its decision on Friday. Canada’s justice minister David Lametti said that the government was thoroughly studying the ruling.
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“It is critically important to emphasize that today’s decision does not apply to the vast majority of cases involving a person who commits a criminal offense while intoxicated,”Lametti highlighted this in a statement.
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