SCOC: Woman can't claim two defences

March 14, 2006 

OTTAWA (CP) - Rita Graveline can't argue that she was both in a robotic state and acting in self-defence when she shot her husband to death, says a Crown lawyer who wants the Quebec woman retried.

The Supreme Court of Canada was asked Tuesday to order a new trial for Graveline, who killed her abusive husband in August 1999. Graveline was acquitted of second-degree murder by a 12-member jury after testifying that she couldn't remember shooting her spouse.

Her lawyers had argued that the woman was in a state of "dissociative amnesia" at the time, due partly to 31 years of physical and psychological abuse from her spouse.

However, Quebec's Court of Appeal, in a 2-1 decision, ordered a new trial after prosecutors argued that the judge in the original trial mistakenly instructed the jury to consider whether Graveline was in a state of automatism brought on by suppressed rage or whether she acted in self-defence.

"Self-defence and automatism defences are incompatible in law," Crown prosecutor Denis Pilon told the high court Tuesday. "They are in opposing directions to each other."

Her lawyer concedes that Graveline shot her husband in the back while he lay in bed, and that mistakes were made by the trial judge.

But those errors were minor and would not have changed the verdict, Isabelle Doray argued.

"It was not a perfect charge (to the jury) but it conformed to the law," she told the seven-judge panel. "There were errors, but not critical errors."

If the Supreme Court were to accept testimony that Graveline was in "an altered state of consciousness" during the shooting, it couldn't at the same time accept that she was acting in self-defence against a perceived threat to her life, argued the Crown prosecutor.

"Based on the evidence, one does not go with the other," said Pilon.

However, Justice Morris Fish raised the possibility of both defences being be used if both were supported by evidence.

"Isn't it reasonable . . . for a judge to open both defences to the jury if the evidence is to be accepted?" he asked.

"Yes," said Doray, Graveline's lawyer. "There was sufficient evidence to be able to convince a jury that there was self-defence in that case, as well as automatism."

During the trial, two psychiatrists testifying for the defence said Graveline's amnesia would have momentarily left her at the mercy of aggressive urges, placing her in an altered state of consciousness.

But a psychiatrist called by the Crown suggested the woman's inability to remember the murder was probably triggered by the shooting itself.

"There was nothing in witness testimony to support the self-defence claim," said Pilon.

The Supreme Court justices reserved judgment Tuesday, giving no indication of when a decision would be rendered.