R. v. Bellusci, 2012 SCC 44

The Appellant, Riccardo Bellusci, had been charged with assault and intimidation of a justice system participant after an altercation with a prison guard while being transported from court to jail. Mr. Bellusci was acquitted of the assault charges and a judicial stay of proceedings was entered in regard to the “intimidation” charge:

On the basis of these findings ― which are not in dispute ― the trial judge held that Mr. Bellusci’s constitutional rights under s. 7 of the Charter had been violated. It would shock informed members of the public to enter a conviction against Mr. Bellusci for having uttered verbal threats recklessly provoked and unlawfully punished by the prison guard to whom the threats had been made. After considering other available remedies, including a reduction of sentence and the possibility of legal or disciplinary proceedings against Mr. Asselin, the trial judge held that a stay of proceedings was the only appropriate remedy in the unusual and troubling circumstances of this case.

The Court of Appeal overturned the stay of proceedings, remitting the matter back to the trial judge for further consideration. On appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, the justices unanimously held that the trial judge’s decision to enter a stay was reasonable and should not have been interfered with by the Appellate court:

In short, the trial judge in this case carefully and correctly considered all the relevant principles. He assessed the gravity of the prejudice and explained why he thought alternative remedies were inadequate. He did not misdirect himself on the applicable law or commit a reviewable error of fact. Nor was his exercise of discretion to grant a stay of proceedings “so clearly wrong as to amount to an injustice” (Regan, supra). My conclusion in this regard relates exclusively to the circumstances of the present matter. In fairness to the trial judge, however, I note that other judges have considered a stay of proceedings to be a proportionate remedy for mistreatment suffered at the hands of law enforcement officers …

This decision is a strong message to law enforcement officers, including prison guards, that their conduct can and will be scrutinized by trial judges, who retain the residual discretion to stay charges in cases of egregious abuse or provocation by agents of the state.

Decided by the Supreme Court of Canada on August 3, 2012.
Click here for the full text of the decision.

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