Overview of the Alberta Court of Appeal’s Decisions in Ryon, Achuil, and SMC
The Alberta Court of Appeal began an overhaul of the W.(D.) analysis in Ryon to which Achuil followed and revised the second prong and to which SMC then confirmed the overall framework to now use.
The four-part framework is as follows (paragraph 24 of the Achuil decision):
- The burden of proof is on the crown to establish the accused’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and that burden remains on the crown so that the accused person is never required to prove his innocence, or disprove any of the evidence led by the crown (subject to the caveat that this does not apply to defences, such as that found in s 16 of the Criminal Code, where the onus rests with the proponent of the defence);
- In that context, if the accused’s evidence denying complicity or guilt (or any other exculpatory evidence to that effect) is believed, or even if not believed still leaves the jury with a reasonable doubt that it may be true, then the jury is required to acquit (again subject to defences with additional elements such as an objective component); This second step (above) is the wording that Achuil revised from the original wording in Ryon.
- While the jury should attempt to resolve conflicting evidence bearing on the guilt or innocence of the accused, a trial is not a credibility contest requiring them to decide that one of the conflicting versions is true. If, after careful consideration of all the evidence, the jury is unable to decide whom to believe, they must acquit; and
- Even if the jury completely rejects the accused’s evidence (or where applicable, other exculpatory evidence), they may not simply assume the crown’s version of events must be true. Rather, they must carefully assess the evidence they do believe and decide whether that evidence persuades them beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty. Mere rejection of the accused’s evidence (or where applicable, other exculpatory evidence) cannot be taken as proof of the accused’s guilt.
Ryon also added that in cases of multiple charges or included offences, the jury ought to be instructed that belief of exculpatory evidence as to one charge does not automatically apply to all other charges. Additionally, a jury should consider the exculpatory evidence in context with all available evidence as a whole (i.e. not in isolation), but such instructions should stop short of telling the jury how to deliberate.
Finally, of importance is that such information is relayed in an understandable way to the jury based on the case at bar.