Former cab driver Al-Rawi found not guilty of sexual assault in retrial
Bassam Al-Rawi was acquitted by N.S. judge in May 2017, but appeal court ordered new trial
Former Halifax taxi driver Bassam Al-Rawi was found not guilty Wednesday of sexual assault in a retrial.
Al-Rawi was accused of sexually assaulting an intoxicated female passenger in his cab four years ago.
He was acquitted in an earlier trial in May 2017, but last fall the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal ordered a new trial, saying the first judge made errors in law, including ignoring circumstantial evidence.
The case garnered national attention after the original trial judge made the comment, "clearly, a drunk can consent."
Bassam Al-Rawi was in court Wednesday with his wife of three years. The pair now live in Germany.
Judge calls Al-Rawi a credible witness
In her decision, Judge Ann Marie Simmons focused less on questions of consent and more on whether Al-Rawi ever attempted to touch the complainant in a sexual way.
The judge called Al-Rawi a credible witness whose testimony was "very detailed and specific."
She said he never tried to evade questions and that he remained credible and calm even under intense cross-examination.
"Mr Al-Rawi's account of the nine minutes during which [the complainant] was in his taxi was compelling," she said. "An extraordinary story — without question — but not, as the Crown urges, implausible or incredible.
"I am asked to accept that an intelligent and experienced taxi driver made a decision to take advantage of a young woman meaningfully impaired by alcohol.
"And that in order to commit a sexual assault, he drove his taxi to a residential neighbourhood — with houses on both sides of the street — stopped the car at least a metre from the sidewalk such that the car was not hidden and in plain view, parallel to a fire hydrant, and with the car running assaulted [the complainant].
"It defies logic that he would choose to stop in such a location, which is the opposite of secluded and private."
Crown failed to prove reasonable doubt, says judge
During the Crown's presentation to the court in May, Jennifer MacLellan argued Al-Rawi sexually assaulted the female after removing her clothing and touching her with this mouth.
The judge said presence of the complainant's DNA on Al-Rawi's mouth does not prove he committed sexual assault.
She also said the Crown failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Al-Rawi removed the woman's clothes.
Carla Ball was one of the Crown prosecutors on the case.
"The issue that [the judge] focused on was whether there was in fact touching and on that issue the judge was left with a reasonable doubt," she said.
The judge said she didn't accept police testimony that the complainant's legs were hoisted over the two front seats while she was seated in the back.
Al-Rawi's pants undone for comfort is plausible, says judge
Simmons said she accepted Al-Rawi's testimony that the reason the top button on his jeans was undone was because he'd been driving his cab for several hours and wanted to be more comfortable. She said it was plausible that was the reason Al-Rawi's seat was reclined.
Defence lawyer Ian Hutchison said his client's reputation and professional life have been destroyed.
"For the second time, Mr. Al-Rawi has been found not guilty and he would ask that the decision be accepted, be respected by the public and that he now be allowed to move on with his life and to put this incident behind him," said Hutchison.
Crown unsure if it will appeal decision
Crown prosecutor Jennifer MacLellan said she's not prepared to say whether the Crown will appeal the judge's decision. However, she said it would be a difficult process.
"We're not allowed to appeal differences of fact for instance. If we think there was something factually the judge may have gotten wrong, that's not something we can appeal on," she said.
It took Simmons four hours to read her decision in provincial court on Wednesday.
MacLellan said her team wants to read it again before deciding what to do.
Al-Rawi not finished with court yet
Wednesday's not-guilty verdict for Al-Rawi does not mean his legal troubles are over.
He'll appear in Nova Scotia Supreme Court in February 2020 to face charges of sexual assault for an alleged December 2012 sexual assault.