R. v. DOONANCO, 2020 SCC 2

The Crown’s failure to cross-examine Defence’s Expert witness on contradictory findings given by its own Expert witness coupled with trial court’s complete exclusion of such defence expert’s testimony from its verdict resulted into violation of accused’s right to fair trial.

The Appellant, Deborah Lee Doonanco, appealed from her sentence by a jury for the convictions of second-degree murder of her abusive domestic partner named, Kevin Feland (deceased), interfering with his human remains and for putting their residence on fire (Arson). The verdict of the trial was announced on November 29, 2016 and the present appeal mainly pointed out that the trial was rendered unfair in many ways which were related to her claim of fair defence. The defence claimed that due to long term physical and emotional abuse, appellant suffered from a “Battered Woman Syndrome (BWS)”and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which were pleaded by her lawyer to be considered in her defence as her mental illness made her go into dissociative state of thinking at the time of commission of the offences. This was also supported by her peculiar conduct of shooting the deceased, setting a fire close to his body and then leaving the house to call 911. She was also telling people who subsequently visited the scene that the deceased had started the fire.

A defence expert witness named Dr. Walker, was called to take the stand. Having expertise in BWS, she testified that the accused was suffering from alleged BWS at the time of commission of murder. Thereafter, a rebuttal expert named Dr. Graham Glancy was called by the Crown to call Dr. Walker’s competence and reliability in question, who proceeded to testify that in her opinion that the accused was not suffering from BWS and hence is not entitled to its benefit in her prosecution. However, the main issue was that neither Dr. Glancy’s report was disclosed to Dr. Walker nor was she cross-examined on its findings by the Crown. Nevertheless, the trial judge gave its decision holding the accused guilty of alleged crimes. He nullified the defence of BWS based on the testimony of Dr. Glancy but failed to even mention the report of Dr. Walker according to whose testimony, the accused was infact suffering from BWS and depression.

The appellant then approached the Court of Appeal of Alberta wherein due to a split verdict, she automatically got entitled to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. The Supreme Court unanimously allowing the appeal observed that the failure of Crown to put Dr. Glancy’s report to Dr. Walker and cross-examine her on the basis of the same has resulted into breach of appellant’s right to fair trial. Doing so, the crown failed to comply with the mandate under Section 657.3 of the Criminal Code and caused grave miscarriage of justice to the appellant. Consequently, the Court set her conviction by the trial court aside and ordered a fair trial against her.