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Mistrial declared in Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officer Doug Snelgrove's sexual assault case

RNC Const. Doug Snelgrove
RNC Const. Doug Snelgrove - File Photo

Error made in manner alternate jurors dismissed; Crown intends to proceed with third trial for Snelgrove

The trial of a Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officer charged with sexually assaulting a woman while on duty six years ago came to an abrupt stop Friday morning, as a mistrial was declared.

This means Const. Doug Snelgrove may now go to trial a third time.

Jurors hearing the trial of Snelgrove, 43, had been in deliberations for about an hour and a half Thursday afternoon before returning to the courtroom to request permission to review the audio recording of a specific witness testimony. At that time, Justice Garrett Handrigan informed them he had realized he made a mistake earlier in the day when he dismissed the two alternate jurors.

Since there had been issues with the jury selection at the start of the trial - when a number of jurors had asked to be excused, forcing sheriffs to take to the streets to find replacements for them - Handrigan had opted to keep 12 jurors and two alternate jurors in the jury box throughout the proceedings. Just before sequestering them Thursday afternoon to begin their deliberations, he dismissed the two alternates, telling jurors no. 13 and no. 14 they were free to leave.

Normal procedure is for the court to draw two jurors’ numbers randomly.

The judge adjourned the deliberations for the rest of the day, advising defence lawyers Randy Piercey and Jon Noonan and Crown prosecutor Lloyd Strickland to take the evening to decide whether they wanted to declare a mistrial as a result of his mistake or carry on, with the acceptance that it meant waiving the right to appeal on that basis if the jury were to find Snelgrove guilty.

When court resumed Friday morning, the defence argued for a mistrial while the Crown argued for the matter to proceed. After a 20-minute recess, Handrigan declared a mistrial and called the jury in to inform and dismiss them.

“Essentially you are not a properly-constituted jury,” Handrigan told them. “I’ve considered  possible remedies and I don’t find one that’s suitable in the circumstances at this time.

“In the circumstances, I don’t think I could possibly undo any damage that might have been done to ensure that you are properly-constituted to come to a verdict.”

Handrigan thanked the jurors and told them he was sorry.

Snelgrove left the building through a side door after the mistrial was declared. His lawyers declined to comment.

Strickland said he was disappointed - for the court and the participants, particularly the complainant, who has now testified twice.

“We will weigh everything but it is our intention, all things being equal, to proceed with the retrial,” he told reporters. When that will happen will depend on the availability of the court, among other things, he said.

Snelgrove’s first trial was in 2017 and a jury acquitted him before the Crown appealed. The provincial Court of Appeal and the Supreme a court of Canada agreed the original trial judge had erred in her instructions to the jury by not explaining to them a part of the law pertaining to consent. Specifically, the fact that a person cannot legally gives consent to sexual activity to someone in a position of power, trust or authority if that someone abused their position to induce it.

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