St. John’s Police Officer Doug Snelgrove asks court to overturn sexual assault conviction and end legal proceedings against him

ST. JOHN’S, NL — Lawyers representing Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officer Doug Snelgrove are asking the court to overturn his sexual assault conviction and end other legal proceedings instead of ordering him to stand trial a fourth time.

“It’s very rare for a person to be tried for the fourth time,” defense attorney Janani Shanmuganathan told a panel of Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal judges in St. John’s. Thursday, November 3. “The reason why is that as a society, the idea of ​​chasing a person over and over and over again just doesn’t sit well with us.

Snelgrove, 45, was convicted by a jury last year of sexually assaulting a woman while on duty in December 2014 after driving her from downtown in his police cruiser. He helped her into his apartment through a window when she realized she had lost her keys, before entering and sexually assaulting her.

His sentencing came after his third trial. He was initially acquitted by a jury in 2017 before the Crown appealed and the local appeals court and then the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the trial judge erred in giving directions. to the jury. A retrial was held in 2020, but ended in a mistrial due to an error by the presiding judge.

Snelgrove was sentenced to four years in prison and ordered to be on the federal sex offender registry for 20 years. He was released on bail last December pending the outcome of his appeal.

He is appealing his conviction on the basis of errors he alleges the trial judge made when instructing the jury and answering several of their questions during deliberations.

Shanmuganathan and co-lawyer Owen Goddard, both based in Toronto, argued that Judge Vikas Khaladkar violated Snelgrove’s right to be present at his own trial during discussions with the lawyer while drafting his final instructions to the jury and when meeting with the attorney in his office to discuss the jury’s questions before providing an answer in the courtroom.

Although Snelgrove was represented by his attorneys during the discussions, “trial counsel being there and passing information on” does not satisfy a legal requirement for a defendant to be present for the conversations, Shanmuganathan said.

Shanmuganathan and Goddard also argued that Khaladkar’s answers to jury questions were inadequate, particularly regarding his explanation of the concepts of recklessness and willful blindness. The judge’s response failed to explain the subjective nature of legal concepts, Goddard argued.

“We’re not saying the judge’s instructions were wrong,” he said. “We say (the jurors) came back and asked questions and the answer they received was incomplete.

“Once the jury has asked a question, you have to get the right answer. Tell them to ignore it…or define the concepts correctly, but what you can’t do is define them wrongly in a very short answer, opening up new avenues of liability, short and incorrect in law .

Prosecutor Kathleen O’Reilly argued in favor of Snelgrove’s conviction, saying Khaladkar’s answers to the jury had been adequate and proper, and argued that the judges were required to provide proper but not necessarily perfect instructions.

O’Reilly pointed out that Snelgrove’s trial attorney participated in crafting the jury instructions with a document signed by Snelgrove allowing them to appear by designation for him and raised no issues with them, even when he had asked them after the jury left. to start deliberations if they had any problems.

“It was a very beneficial charge for the appellant,” O’Reilly said. “There is no evidence here of harm to him as a result of the way this was conducted.”

Although a defendant has a right to be present for such discussions, the Criminal Code does not require him to be there when represented by counsel, O’Reilly argued.

“Things are done differently in different jurisdictions,” she said. “In this jurisdiction, there is a history of conferences being held where the accused is not required to be present.”

Snelgrove’s case involves a “gross breach of trust” with impacts for the plaintiff and the public, O’Reilly said. As such, if the appeal judges rule on the annulment of his conviction, a new trial is necessary, she argued.

Chief Justice of the Court of Appeal Deborah Fry, Justice Lois Hoegg and Justice William Goodridge will rule on the appeal at a later date.

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