sexsomnia defence

‘Sexsomnia” Defence Rejected by Ontario Judge

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

A Judge has rejected the defence of “sexsomnia” and ruled that Ryan Hartman (“Hartman”) is criminally responsible for the sexual assault of a woman despite his claim that he was sleepwalking at the time of the criminal act.

Hartman was found guilty of sexual assault in 2012 and sentenced to 14 months in jail. He appealed and lost. He appealed again and admitted to the crime, but offered new evidence claiming that he was suffering from a condition called “sexsomnia” and maintained that he was sleeping when he raped the woman.

The Ontario Court of Appeal granted Hartman a new trial. The trial began in April 2017 and concluded this week with a Judge ruling that Hartman is guilty of sexual assault.

WHAT HAPPENED?

In February 2011, the woman, whose identity is protected by a court order, was attending a house party in Spencerville, Ontario with her boyfriend. The couple fell asleep on an air mattress to sleep off all of the alcohol they had consumed before driving home.

Suddenly, the woman felt a strong pain in her buttocks. She realized that her jeans were pulled down and that someone was penetrating her anally while her boyfriend remained asleep.

Hartman gave evidence at his first trial that he crawled onto the double air mattress with a sleeping couple. When he awoke, he was alone on the air mattress with an erection and his pants were unzipped.

As the woman and her boyfriend drove away from the house party, she observed Hartman sitting at a picnic table in the garage looking wide awake.

During the trial, Hartman’s lawyer argued that his client was asleep during the sexual assault and was therefore not criminally responsible for his “involuntary” acts.

Hartman relied upon evidence provided by Dr. Julian Gojer, a forensic psychiatrist, who determined that Hartman was likely asleep during the assault. Dr. Gojer’s opinion relied upon a family history of sleepwalking and evidence from Hartman’s girlfriend who had once found Hartman masturbating beside her in bed while apparently asleep.

The Crown prosecutor relied upon affidavit evidence from a U.S. sleep expert Dr. Mark Pressman who opined that Hartman was likely awake, but drunk during the assault.

At trial, evidence before the court included the fact that Hartman had consumed as many as 21 alcoholic beverages during the party and that his blood-alcohol level was estimated to be three to four times the legal limit.

Judge Kimberly Moore rejected Hartman’s defence of sexsomnia and ruled that Hartman was “awake and aware” and his “actions were not involuntary” when he pulled down the victim’s pants and anally penetrated the woman without her consent.

 WHAT IS SEXSOMNIA?

Sexsomnia is a type of parasomnia, an abnormal activity that occurs while an individual is asleep. It is a sleep disorder that causes individuals to engage in sexual behaviour while asleep.

Sexsomnia is similar to sleepwalking and occurs during non-rapid eye movement sleep. Most individuals are experiencing such a deep sleep that they will not even remember that the event occurred the following day.

Sexsomnia was added to the DSM-5 in 2013, the American Psychiatric Association’s relied upon classification of mental disorders.

WHAT IS THE DEFENCE OF SEXSOMNIA?

In Canada, sexsomnia has been raised by defence lawyers as a legal defence in at least a dozen criminal cases since 2005. The defence of sexsomnia has resulted in a “not criminally responsible” ruling five times.

A 2003 incident that occurred in Toronto set the precedent for the sexsomnia defence in Canada when Jan Luedecke was found not criminally responsible after being accused of sexually assaulting a woman at a party by the Ontario Court of Appeal.  In 2009, Luedecke was granted an absolute discharge by the Ontario Review Board based upon two risk assessments by a forensic psychiatrist and a forensic psychologist. He was found not to pose a significant threat to public safety.

In another case, a man from Blue Mountain, Ontario was found not criminally responsible for the sexual touching of a young girl as a result of sexsomnia in February 2015. In June 2016, the Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court ordered a new trial for a man convicted of sexually touching his younger sister on the basis of a sexsomnia defence.

Sexsomnia is a difficult defence as it requires a great deal of medical evidence, including expert testimony.

The victim of Hartman’s assault maintains that the assault has changed her life, her sexual relationships, her personal relationships, and her career path. Hartman will be sentenced on November 30, 2018.

If you have been charged with a sexual assault offence or have any questions regarding your legal rights, please contact the experienced criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947. We offer a 24-hour phone service to protect your rights and to ensure that you have access to justice at all times.  We are available when you need us most.