New trial possible for Doug Snelgrove, RNC officer accused of sexual assault

Douglas Snelgrove was acquitted of all charges in 2017, but the Crown's appeal of that verdict has been granted, and a new trial ordered.

Snelgrove was acquitted in 2017, but Crown's appeal of verdict granted

Carl Douglas Snelgrove broke down in tears after the jury announced he was found not guilty of sexual assault in 2017. (Glenn Payette/CBC)

A Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officer acquitted of sexual assault in 2017 will face a new trial for the same charge, after provincial judges granted the Crown's appeal of the case.

A two-to-one decision delivered Oct. 17 agreed with the Crown's appeal argument that the original trial judge had erred in instructing the jury about the issue of consent involving a person in a position of authority, and ordered a new trial into the matter.

In February 2017, a jury found Const. Carl Douglas Snelgrove not guilty of sexually assaulting a woman while on duty. That verdict triggered protests and the Crown's appeal.

The charge dates back to December 2014, when Snelgrove picked the woman up in St. John's after a night of drinking. He drove her home, and the two ended up having sex. The case hinged on whether that woman had consented to sex, or was even in the position to be able to.

Snelgrove talks to his lawyer, Randy Piercey, in February 2017. Piercey declined to comment on the decision. (Glenn Payette/CBC)

Different judges, different opinions

In a lengthy analysis, Justice Gale Welsh found the trial judge failed to instruct the jury on Criminal Code nuances to consent, which can be nullified when the accused abuses a position of trust or authority. She wrote that failure "might reasonably have had a material bearing on the acquittal," and ordered a new trial.

Welsh also noted the Crown had specifically asked the judge to instruct the jury on this nuance, and the judge refused.

Justice Lois Hoegg agreed with Welsh.

In delivering his dissenting opinion, Justice Charles White noted jury acquittals are not overturned lightly. On the issue of consent, he wrote, "The trial judge's instructions on this issue were sufficient. As noted by Crown counsel, parties are entitled to a properly instructed jury, not a perfectly instructed jury."

Possible appeal to decision

Because of White's dissent, Snelgrove and his legal team have the right to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada, and have 30 days to do so. Snelgrove's lawyer, Randy Piercey, declined an interview with the CBC on Friday.

Crown attorney Lloyd Strickland said his team is satisfied with the decision, and if Snelgrove does not appeal, will ready themselves for a new trial.

"All things being equal, that would be our intention," he said, adding before that happens his team would have to speak to the complainant and comb through evidence.

Strickland noted in the original trial the jury deliberated on the verdict for two days, and asked a number of questions to the judge, which may have been due to the judge's lack of instructions to them at the outset.

"Clearly, this wasn't an easy decision for them to make. So I think it's quite rational to conclude in those circumstances, if they had been directed on that particular prevision of the code, it may have changed the outcome," he told CBC News.

A crowd of about 100 protesters gathered outside RNC headquarters in St. John's in February 2017 after Snelgrove's acquittal. (Jen White/CBC)

Appeal 'bittersweet'

Following Snelgrove's acquittal, demonstrators took to the streets of St. John's to voice their anger over the initial verdict.

"There was just such community grief, and community anger," recalled Jenny Wright, executive director of the St. John's Status of Women Council.

"People were so frustrated. It just seemed like such a blatant case of injustice."

Wright called the appeal decision "bittersweet," and worried about the impact another trial could have on the woman.

"I feel for her. I feel for the victim, of having to go through that process again, which is long and drawn-out and difficult to get through," she said.

Strickland said he has not spoken to the woman since the trial concluded, but that victim services would be in touch to keep her abreast of the case's developments.

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