With the start of the new year comes a helpful reminder as to the significance of criminal and quasi-criminal verdicts in related civil proceedings. This is thanks to the Honourable Justice J. O’Connor who, on January 3, 2013, determined that the Defendant, Enid Marianayagm, in the case of Bhattacherjee v. Marianayagam, was entirely responsible for the Plaintiff’s damages, stemming from a motor vehicle accident caused by Marianayagm’s unfortunate action of running a red light. In the words of Justice O’Connor:
Marianayagm pleaded guilty to Disobey Traffic Signal – Red. A red light infraction is an absolute liability offence. … She did not appeal the finding of guilt, nor did she pursue the issue of ineffective representation of counsel in any other forum.
A plea of guilty is an admission to all legal ingredients to constitute the offence charged. Marianayagm waived her right to have the Crown prove its case and her right to any related procedural safeguards, including those constitutionally protected at a time when she was aware of the civil action and the jeopardy stakes facing her …
As noted above, Marianayagm admitted on cross-examination that ultimately she voluntarily accepted the advice of her counsel to plead guilty. She knew she could have exercised her right to contest the charge and the essential facts underlying it at trial but chose not to do so.
The verdict in a criminal or quasi-criminal case, and the findings essential to that verdict, “are generally conclusive in a related civil action”, says Justice O’Connor, subject to the following exceptions: (1) when the criminal or quasi-criminal case is tainted by fraud or dishonesty; (2) when fresh, new evidence, previously unavailable, conclusively impeaches the original results; or (3) when fairness dictates that the original result should not be binding. These exceptions considered, Justice O’Connor determined as follows:
None of these considerations apply to this case. Marianayagam has produced no evidence to show her guilty plea was induced by fraud, or that she now has new evidence to conclusively refute the facts to which she admitted on her plea, or that fairness dictates a different result.
In the result, we are once again reminded that guilty verdicts matter.