A Yukon territorial court judge has allowed a man to withdraw his guilty plea on an impaired driving charge after finding he didn’t understand a key part of the offence.
In a situation he described as having arose under “unusual circumstances,” Chief Judge Peter Chisholm found in an Aug. 28 decision that Brandon Janz didn’t know an essential element of impaired driving is the voluntary consumption of a drug and that he could have raised an involuntary intoxication defence.
The decision comes after Janz filed an application to withdraw his plea.
According to the decision, Janz pleaded guilty on June 26, 2019, in relation to an alleged incident that took place in November 2018.
Chisholm noted that Janz was 21 at the time of the plea, self-represented and appeared to be unfamiliar with the criminal justice system, assisted only by an Indigenous court worker whose role does not include providing legal advice.
In affidavits filed with his application, Janz said that he had taken several medications the day of the plea that affected his ability to think clearly.
However, after later speaking to a lawyer, he learned he had a possible defence.
“Mr. Janz explains that on the day in question, he visited a residence to pick up a friend. He had not consumed any drugs or alcohol,” the decision reads, summarizing one of Janz’s affidavits. “While at the residence, a person unknown to him offered him a ‘monster energy drink’ and stated something to the effect of there being ‘some interesting stuff in there.’
“After consuming the drink, Mr. Janz became panicked about what it contained, even though he did not feel impaired. At that point, he borrowed a car and left the residence with the friend he had come to get. He intended to drive his friend to her house, and then return to his house.”
He was then stopped and charged by police.
The decision does not specify the drug Janz allegedly consumed, but says that, prior to speaking to a lawyer, he thought he could raise the issue of unknowingly taking it at sentencing.
The Crown had opposed Janz’s application, arguing his plea was “clearly unequivocal” and voluntary. The judge, the Crown argued, had done a thorough job of ensuring Janz understood the consequences of pleading guilty, and allowing him to withdraw his guilty plea under the circumstance would also risk “opening the floodgates.”
Chisholm, however, ultimately found that Janz’s plea was uninformed as there was a viable defence that Janz “erroneously understood” would be a mitigating factor during sentencing.
Chisholm agreed with the Crown that Janz “may have some challenges in mounting his defence,” but wrote that he was unable to determine that it was completely without merit.
“In the unusual circumstances of this matter, I find that Mr. Janz’s guilty plea was not fully informed, as he did not understand that an essential element of the offence was the voluntary consumption of a drug,” Chisholm wrote. “I am satisfied that had he known this, he would not have pleaded guilty. In all the circumstances, this situation creates an appearance of unfairness that should be remedied.”
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org