Newfoundland officer fighting sexual assault conviction seeking stay of proceedings

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — A Newfoundland police officer convicted of sexual assault is seeking an end to all legal proceedings against him.

Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officer Carl Douglas Snelgrove, 45, was in court Thursday to appeal his conviction last year of sexual assault. He was found guilty on May 15, 2021, of sexually assaulting a woman in her living room while on duty in 2014.

He went to trial three times on the charge, after his initial acquittal was appealed and his second trial ended in a mistrial. After his conviction last year, provincial Supreme Court Justice Vikas Khaladkar sentenced Snelgrove to four years in prison and said he would remain on a registry of sex offenders for 20 years.

He has been out on bail since December.

In the Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal on Thursday, Snelgrove's lawyers argued that Khaladkar made errors that warranted quashing his conviction. They asked for a stay of proceedings that would free Snelgrove from facing a fourth trial.

"It's very rare for a person to go to trial for a fourth time," said Janani Shanmuganathan, who argued Snelgrove's case alongside Owen Goddard. "And the reason why is that, as a society, the idea of prosecuting a person over and over and over again just doesn't sit well with us."

Crown attorney Kathleen O'Reilly said Snelgrove's case involved an "egregious breach of trust" with profound impacts on the complainant and public trust. If the Appeal Court judges overturn his conviction, O'Reilly said, a new trial is "necessary and possible."

Snelgrove's case has been a touchstone for many in St. John's since he first stood trial in 2017, and protests erupted after his first trial when he was acquitted.

Shanmuganathan and Goddard argued Thursday that during Snelgrove's third trial, Khaladkar provided incomplete and incorrect information in response to questions from the jury. They also argued that discussions between Khaladkar and the defence and prosecution lawyers before instructions were given to the jury were not properly documented.

Furthermore, they said Snelgrove's right to be present at all parts of his trial was violated because he was not part of those discussions.

O'Reilly argued that judges are required to instruct and answer a jury properly but not perfectly. She said Khaladkar gave proper and adequate responses. She also pointed to emails documenting the discussions before instructions to the jury and noted that such discussions are optional. In any case, she added, they all involved Snelgrove's defence lawyer.

The three Appeal Court judges — Justice Lois Hoegg, Chief Justice Deborah Fry and Justice William Goodridge — have reserved their decision.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 3, 2022.

The Canadian Press