In its unanimous decision last week, the Supreme Court of Canada ordered a new trial for Chaycen Michael Zora (“Zora”), who had been convicted of breaching his bail conditions.
The highest court in Canada concluded that an individual accused of breaching his/her bail conditions must knowingly or recklessly violate those conditions in order to be found guilty of breaching them.
Zora was charged with several drug offences in British Columbia. He was released on bail and required to abide by twelve conditions. These conditions included that he keep the peace and be of good behaviour, report to his bail supervisor, not possess any non-prescribed controlled substances, not possess or have a cell phone, obey a curfew and be present at his front door within five minutes if and when the police or bail supervisor appeared to check on him, amongst other conditions.
In October 2015, police rang Zora’s doorbell on two occasions and he did not answer. He was therefore charged with two counts of breaching his curfew and two counts of failing to meet the condition of responding to police at his home during a curfew check.
At his trial, Zora was acquitted of charges of breaching curfew as it could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Zora had been outside of his home after curfew. However, Zora was fined $920 and found guilty of two counts of failing to appear at the door in response to curfew compliance checks.
Zora argued that he did not hear the doorbell as it was difficult to hear it from where he slept. Furthermore, he testified that he was undergoing methadone treatment, which made him very tired, and was in the process of withdrawal from his heroin addiction.
Zora also testified that he changed where he slept in his home and set up an audio-visual system at his front door to help alert him to further police checks, which ensured that he was complying with his conditions of bail.
Zora unsuccessfully appealed the trial judge’s decision. He then proceeded to take his appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada
THE DECISION OF THE SUPREME COURT
Zora appeals his conviction for failing to comply with his bail conditions by not answering the door when police appeared at his residence to ensure that he was complying with his bail conditions. In failing to do so, Zora had committed the actus reus of the crime (the physical act of the crime).
The Supreme Court of Canada was asked to determine whether Zora had committed the mental element, also known as the mens rea, of the crime, which also must be present, in order to secure a conviction under section 145(3) of the Criminal Code.
It is a criminal offence, under section 145(3) of the Criminal Code, to breach bail. This crime carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison. Therefore, an accused may be subject to imprisonment for breaching conditions of their bail even if he/she is not found guilty of any of the original charges.
In writing on behalf of the Supreme Court, Justice Martin explained what was required to satisfy the mental element of the crime:
I conclude that the Crown is required to prove subjective mens rea and no lesser form of fault will suffice. Under s.145(3), the Crown must establish that the accused committed the breach knowingly or recklessly. Nothing in the text or context of s. 145(3) displaces the presumption that Parliament intended to require a subjective mens rea.
…The realities of the bail system further support Parliament’s intention to require subjective fault to ensure that the individual characteristics of the accused are considered throughout the bail process.
…Not only is this conclusion consistent with the presumption of subjective fault for crimes like s. 145(3), it is supported by its place and purpose in the overall bail system, the serious consequences which flow from its breach, and how the consideration of individual circumstances is the proper focus both for setting conditions and determining the mental element for their breach.
The Supreme Court held that subjective mens rea can be established when the Crown has proven:
- The accused had knowledge of the conditions of the bail order, or they were willfully blind to those conditions; and
- The accused knowingly (or were willfully blind to the circumstances) failed to act according to their bail conditions despite the knowledge of them; or
- The accused recklessly failed to act in accordance with their bail conditions (i.e. perceived an unjustified risk that their conduct would fail to comply with their bail conditions).
In conclusion, the Supreme Court held that subjective fault is required for a conviction under s. 145(3) of the Criminal Code. The court found that the lower courts erred in law by applying an objective rather than a subjective standard of fault. The Supreme Court allowed Zora’s appeal, quashed his convictions and ordered a new trial on the two counts of failing to appear at his door.
If you have been charged with a bail related offence or have any questions regarding your legal rights, please contact the knowledgeable criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947. Our skilled criminal defence lawyers have significant experience defending a wide range of criminal charges and protecting our client’s rights. We offer a free consultation and are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Trust our experienced criminal lawyers to handle your defence with diligence, strategy and expertise.