Victor Samaniego v. Her Majesty the Queen
(Ontario) (Criminal) (As of Right)
Criminal law - Evidence - Criminal law - Trial management powers - Evidence - Admissibility of evidence - Cross-examination - Credibility - Prior inconsistent statements - Prior consistent statements - Trial fairness - Whether the majority of the Court of Appeal erred in finding that the trial judge’s mid-trial rulings were a proper exercise of her trial management powers and subject to deference - Whether the majority of the Court of Appeal erred in finding that the mid-trial rulings did not render the trial unfair by depriving the appellant of the ability to make full answer and defence.
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The appellant was jointly charged and tried by a jury with his co-accused of possession of a loaded restricted firearm. It was alleged that the appellant had brought the firearm to a nightclub and used it to threaten a security guard (“witness”) at the club’s entrance, and that the co-accused took possession of the weapon shortly thereafter. The witness’s credibility was central to the Crown’s case. The trial judge made a number of mid-trial rulings which had the effect of preventing the appellant’s counsel from cross-examining the witness on his prior statements to police and at the preliminary inquiry, and she disallowed a line of questioning related to alleged discreditable conduct by the co-accused. The trial judge also directed the jury that the witness had made prior consistent statements, but did not require those statements to be put into evidence. Both the appellant and his co-accused were found guilty.
The appellant appealed his conviction, alleging that the trial judge erred in limiting the witness’s cross-examination by the appellant’s counsel and in misdirecting the jury on the witness’s prior consistent statements. He also argued that the errors undermined the fairness of the trial. A majority of the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal, holding that the rulings were trial management decisions within the discretion of the trial judge which are entitled to deference. The rulings did not deprive the appellant of material evidence necessary for his defence and did not impact the fairness of the trial. In dissent, Paciocco J.A. would have allowed the appeal and ordered a new trial. In his view, the trial judge’s rulings deprived the appellant of important evidence related to the witness’s credibility, and the fairness of the trial was undermined by the trial judge’s errors.
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