Fontaine worked "under the table" at a car garage. Renaud, a former employee, called the store and said "we're coming to get you, pigs". Dompierre, the eventual victim, came in to the store and told a co-worker that there was a hit out for Fontaine and himself. Having been informed of this, when he left work, Fontaine purchased a firearm. That evening, Fontaine saw Renaud outside his house. During the night, Fontaine smoked marijuana and at some point in the night he freaked out and shot bullets through his windows and doors, thinking that someone was breaking in to get him. The next day, Dompiere came into the garage to pay off a debt and Fontaine, thinking he was the hitman, shot him seven times, killing him. He turned himself into the police. He claimed that he was "frozen" at the time of the murder and only partially recollected it; he said that his actions were not his own.
Several different doctors testified, and stated that it was possible that Fontaine suffered from paranoia that was triggered by his habitual smoking of marijuana. This would make him delusional, however, it was hard to prove and relied mostly on his evidence. However, the doctor for the defence found conclusively that Fontaine did have a major psychological disorder and that he was unable to determine right from wrong.
The trial judge did not put mental-disorder automatism to the jury, who convicted him; the Court of Appeal overturned this and issued a new trial, stating that the defence should be left to the jury.
- How much evidence is needed to pass the first step of the automatism defence as laid out in R v Stone?
Fish, writing for a unanimous court, states that it is not up to the judge to determine whether or not the evidence that was put forward is true. All that they should determine is if it is true, if it could used to properly raise the defence of automatism. The evidentiary burden on the defendant is proved if he or she shows some evidence, including expert testimony, which could lead to a properly instructed jury finding that the defence applies (the air of reality test). It is then up to the jury as finders of fact to determine if the evidence is true, and if the defence applies.
Applying that to the case at bar, the Court of Appeal was correct in ordering a new trial. The accused did raise sufficient evidence that, if it were true, could lead to a finding that the defence applies. Therefore, the jury should have been charged with the defence of mental disorder automatism.
The evidentiary burden is discharged if the accused raises sufficient evidence that there is an "air of reality" that the defence might succeed; the judge is not to consider the truth of the evidence when deciding if the accused has met the burden.