Criminal Law

Scruton's client acquitted of uttering threats

By Paul Russell, Contributor

In what could be a first for British Columbia, Kamloops criminal lawyer Lisa Mae Scruton successfully argued that her client was not guilty of uttering threats by raising the defence of self-induced intoxication.

Her 29-year-old client drank himself into severe intoxication, then threatened to kill his common-law partner, says Scruton, principal of LMS Litigation.

“Uttering threats is commonly a relatively low-level offence unless it is tied to other offences or a broader, violent fact pattern,” she tells “But this was a case of him getting intoxicated on his own volition and then saying something irresponsible.”

Scruton says threat charges in Canada are categorized as either specific or general intent offences.

“Self-induced intoxication is the defence to very few charges, and can only be used in specific intent offences,” she says. “So the hard part was ensuring that the presiding judge classified uttering threats as a specific intent offence.”

How such charges are categorized varies from province to province. In a recent Alberta case, the judge ruled that uttering threats is a general intent offence, Scruton says. However, she found a 2010 B.C. case where the judge found that uttering threats was a specific intent offence.

“I relied on that to proffer the defence of self-induced intoxication and was able to have him found not guilty because the judge agreed he was blackout drunk at the time,” she says.

Scruton says the man had a personality change as a result of his high level of intoxication, so the judge determined that he couldn't form the mental intent necessary to have known what he was threatening to do.

“Based on the reported cases that I've been able to find, this was the first time in B.C. that this defence has been successfully put forward for uttering threats,” she says.

In other B.C. decisions where counsel had argued that uttering threats should be treated as a specific intent offence, she says judges always found something within the facts of the case that precluded the defence of self-induced intoxication from being successful.

For example, she says that if the person was capable of having a conversation, the judge ruled they were able to form mental intent.

“So, this is the first time someone has been able to piece it all together successfully, at least in the reported decisions I've been able to review,” Scruton adds.

This ruling will not be binding in other provinces unless the judgment is upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada, she says.

Before that could happen, Scruton says the verdict would first have to be appealed at the B.C. Supreme Court, and then the B.C. Court of Appeal.

“I have a suspicion that the Crown may try to appeal this decision since it basically opens the floodgates for every uttering threats case in B.C. because, more often than not, these acts occur in the context of intoxication,” Scruton says.

When people’s inhibitions are lowered by alcohol, she says they are more likely to say things that they don't mean.

“This decision could have a far-reaching impact and I hope to see it used in the future as a precedent for other defence counsel to ensure the successful acquittals of other accused persons,” Scruton says.

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