What was supposed to be a sentencing hearing Thursday morning turned into renewed question of a man’s guilt in a bizarre turn of events.
A 27-year-old Summerland man, who can’t be named due to a publication ban, was accused of sexual interference with a pair of minors during a movie night, and pleaded guilty to the charge, but leading up to his sentencing hearing came to disagree with some of the core points of the charges.
“(Sexual assault) is a very broad concept, and it may not meet the criteria. But at least at this point, all we were prepared to do today is we understood from the last hearing was to come here and give the facts on sentencing,” defence lawyer Don Skogstad said in court.
“And then we find out that the Crown can’t prove their case. We’re not going first; we don’t have to and we don’t want to.”
Ultimately, the issue has come down to a disagreement about the facts, but Skogstad spoke cryptically about where the disagreement lay.
That said, he did acknowledge there was a guilty plea already entered, saying he felt it was due to the “broad concept” of sexual assault. He hinted that the defence’s alleged offences would have fallen on the less severe end of that spectrum, even questioning whether there was illegal conduct.
“The most you could say was there was close contact with another person and not involving the private parts of the body,” Skogstad said. “That could be considered sexual assault.”
Skogstad flirted with the idea of getting into a trial over the matter, but failed to charge headlong into an expungement application to revoke the guilty plea, for which there is an exceptionally high legal bar to clear.
“That’s not been decided your honour. I don’t have those instructions today. My instructions today, ever since the last hearing, was to be prepared to deal with the facts on sentencing,” Skogstad said. “And we are. We’re here.”
But Crown was unable to proceed with the sentencing hearing, with no witnesses to corroborate aggravating circumstances in the instance — and Crown lawyer Andrew Vandersluys, sitting in for lawyer Anne Lerchs, indicated the prosecution was having difficulties moving forward with such fundamental disagreements on the charges and without knowing what the full details of what is being disputed.
“His client denies it. If what’s being read is denied, we’re at the very heart of the charge,” Vandersluys said. “I don’t see how a guilty plea can be maintained if all that happened was close contact in the presence of another person. That’s not sexual assault.”
Judge Gregory Koturbash appeared perplexed by the change of circumstances with the defence, agreeing that the sentencing should not move forward without knowing from where the main denials arose.
But Skogstad remained mum on the issue, asserting he had no legal obligation to spill the defence before the Crown has brought forward all of its evidence.
“It just doesn’t make sense to me. I’ve never seen something like this,” Koturbash said, with Skogstad expressing much the same.
“They have to prove some event that amounts to sexual assault,” Skogstad responded, but was cut off by Koturbash who said the Crown didn’t need to prove the crime — it had been admitted through a guilty plea.
The hearing grew tense between Skogstad and Koturbash, who disagreed on whether or not the defence needed to delve its side of the story to proceed.
“You need to help me along, here, and say on what basis you entered a guilty plea,” Koturbash said, adding it is not up to the Crown to prove the defendant’s guilt. “It’s a sentencing now. We’re dealing with a sentencing. He’s foregone the right to have a trial. He is not presumed innocent. He is guilty.”
In the case of one of the minors, Skogstad denied any guilt on the part of the defence, claiming that person had turned 16 before the incident occurred.
“If that fact is denied in and of itself, that’s a big problem,” Vandersluys said.
“He probably needs to retain different counsel,” Koturbash added, to which Skogstad said he would likely be consulting with other lawyers.
After a lengthy adjournment to discuss the issue with his client, Skogstad told the court more time would be needed to determine how to move forward.