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Corner Brook woman acquitted of driving while impaired by drug

Scales of Justice
Scales of Justice - File

Case highlights dangers of accepting pills from strangers

A decision out of provincial court in Corner Brook last week outlines the danger of being too trusting of strangers.

The case involved a woman who was charged with driving while impaired by drug after the vehicle she was operating hit a parked car in Corner Brook one afternoon in July 2016.

The woman failed a standard field sobriety test conducted by an RNC officer at the scene, and further testing at the RCMP station in Stephenville concluded she had been impaired by drug.

Judge Wayne Gorman, however, acquitted the woman of the charge because he found during the trial there was reasonable doubt that she knew she had taken the impairment substances.

Details of the case state the woman had just moved to the west coast city after leaving an abusive relationship. Not knowing anyone in the city, she went to a local Tim Hortons and ended up having a conversation with a man there whom she had never met before.

The woman was staying at a transition house at the time and was looking for an apartment for a new start on life.

The man at Tim Hortons told her he was also looking for an apartment and suggested they search for a place together to share as roommates.

Later that day, after viewing an apartment and going to a bar for a drink to discuss the possible arrangements, the woman asked the man if he had any Tylenol, because she had a headache. The man pulled a bottle of pills out of his backpack and handed her two white pills, which she swallowed.

The woman testified she felt a little “tired and groggy” the next day. She indicated she drove to the Tim Hortons to pick up the man to go view the apartment again. En route to the apartment, she hit a vehicle that was parked on the side of the street.

The RNC officers who responded suspected impairment, though the woman said she did not use drugs or alcohol. The officers testified she spoke very slowly and appeared to have difficulty speaking. She also had difficulty following a pen one officer moved in front of her eyes, had trouble standing on one foot and was unable to walk a short distance while touching her toe to her heel on each step.

“She indicated that she thought (the man) had given her two Tylenol,” Gorman noted.

“She testified that she took the pills because she trusted (the man). As we know, (the woman) had not met (the man) before July 3, 2016. It might seem peculiar that she would swallow something he gave her. It might also seem peculiar that she would consider sharing an apartment with a man she did not know.

“From a purely objective basis, (the woman’s) evidence does not appear reasonable. Would a reasonable person think about sharing an apartment with someone they just met? Probably not. However, I must also consider (her) evidence from her perspective and her situation at the time.”

The Crown in the case stated that while it recognized that the involuntary consumption of a drug could constitute a defence, (the woman’s) description of what occurred at the bar “makes no sense.”

The woman’s lawyer argued that while her decision to take the pills proffered by the man was “inadvisable,” it was not unreasonable and the evidence should leave a reasonable doubt.

After considering case law and the woman’s testimony, Gorman found that, “I have concluded that the Crown has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that (the woman’s) ability to operate a motor vehicle was impaired by a drug. … However, I have also concluded that the Crown has failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that (the woman) had the necessary mens rea to commit the offence of operation of a motor vehicle while impaired by a drug. I have reached this latter conclusion because the totality of the evidence leaves me with a reasonable doubt that (the woman) knowingly took any of the drugs which caused her ability to operate a motor vehicle to be impaired.”

The woman was acquitted of the charge.

It is not known if she proceeded to share the apartment or any other living space with the man, nor whether the man (who was not named in the decision) faced any charges.

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