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Verdict overturned after trial judge found to have bias

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There are many rules that must be followed in the course of a criminal case being decided. Those rules are in place to ensure that the process is a fair one. Accordingly, a deviation from them can result in charges being thrown out or a verdict being overturned. An Ontario resident who was found guilty of assault causing bodily harm recently succeeded in the latter.

The case was overturned after the man appealed the lower court’s decision. On appeal, it was determined that the trial judge who rendered the verdict conducted a personal investigation into the matter before him and the information he obtained prejudiced his decision that the accused was guilty.

Specifically, the trial judge used Google Street View to look at a fence. The fence was important as the accused man said that he suffered injuries to his knuckles not as a result of striking a woman in her face, but rather after being pushed into the fence.

After looking at the image of the nightclub where the incident occurred, the judge determined that the fence could not have inflicted the type of injuries that the accused suffered. Instead, despite not hearing any evidence to support the contention, he determined that the injuries were due to the teeth of the woman who was struck.

The appeals court based its decision on the trial judge taking the following actions:

  • Downloading the image on his own accord
  • Not putting the image to the accused
  • Making observations without expert evidence

Whether a new trial will be ordered in relation to the assault charge is not clear. The Crown will likely make that decision soon. If it does in fact occur, it is fair to assume that the man will have a criminal defence lawyer at his side.

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