Conflicting Stories and Reasonable Doubt: Variations on W. (D.)'s Theme

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Accused, Exculpatory Testimony, Reasonable Doubt, Guilt of Accused, Supreme Court of Canada, R v W(D)


Whether the guilt of an accused has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt is always a difficult issue, particularly so when the accused has testified. There is little difficulty when an accused's exculpatory testimony is accepted by the trial judge, since that of course leads unambiguously to an acquittal. More complex is the situation where a trial judge does not simply accept the accused's version of events — that is, most of the time. In those circumstances, trial judge must embark down the twisty road of deciding whether disbelieved testimony can nonetheless result in an acquittal, or alternatively whether an acquittal must still result from some other reason.

The primary guidance in these circumstances is the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in R. v. W. (D.). In addition, though, a number of recent court of appeal decisions in several provinces have added guidance on applying those rules in various circumstances. These decisions show the delicate balancing that is necessary to, on the one hand, permit reasonable inferences, but on the other continue to respect the need to require that convictions not occur without proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.