Sex assault charge stayed for B.C. man after 3rd inconclusive trial

A B.C. Supreme Court judge has declared a mistrial in Matthew Dwayne Cartwright's third trial on the same sexual assault charge. (Peter Scobie/CBC - image credit)
A B.C. Supreme Court judge has declared a mistrial in Matthew Dwayne Cartwright's third trial on the same sexual assault charge. (Peter Scobie/CBC - image credit)

Prosecutors have decided not to proceed with a fourth trial for a B.C. man accused of sexually assaulting a woman he'd just met, following yet another mistrial in the case.

Matthew Dwayne Cartwright has been found guilty of the sexual assault once before, but the decision was reversed on appeal, and two subsequent attempts to try the case have ended in mistrials.

The most recent was declared last week, when a B.C. Supreme Court judge halted proceedings, in part, she said, because a Crown prosecutor used "dangerous stereotypical reasoning" about sexual assault in her closing submissions to the jury.

Justice Catherine Murray wrote in her Nov. 10 judgment that "due to the volume and extent of Crown counsel's improper submissions, I am satisfied that trial fairness has been fatally compromised."

B.C. Prosecution Service spokesperson Dan McLaughlin told CBC in an email that following Murray's decision, Crown counsel has stayed the charge against Cartwright, concluding that the case no longer meets the province's charge approval standards.

Those standards, which are some of the toughest in the country, require that the evidence supports "a substantial likelihood of conviction" and, if so, that "the public interest requires a prosecution."

In most other provinces, as well as at the federal level, a lesser standard of a "reasonable" likelihood of conviction is necessary to approve charges.

Cartwright's lawyer, David Ferguson, described the process to date as "extremely frustrating" for his client.

"He has been through three multi-week trials over the last five years, and he has maintained his innocence throughout. He was hoping that the jury would vindicate him this time by finding him not guilty," Ferguson wrote.

"The situation is unfortunate for the entire system and all parties involved."

Trials turned on the issue of consent

Previous court decisions show that Cartwright is accused of raping a woman on the morning of Nov. 13, 2016, on a couch in his apartment. The alleged victim's name is protected by a publication ban.

Cartwright had met the alleged victim's friend on a dating site and they'd all gone to a pub in Langley, B.C., the night before, according to court documents.

The night ended with Cartwright and the two women returning to his apartment and the alleged victim falling asleep on the couch while Cartwright and the alleged victim's friend went into the bedroom.

The alleged victim testified that she awoke in the morning to find Cartwright removing her clothes and then performing various unwanted sex acts on her while she was frozen in fear. Cartwright has maintained that she consented.

A jury found Cartwright guilty in 2018 in his first trial, and he was sentenced to 30 months behind bars.

But that decision was overturned in 2021 after a panel of appeal court justices found the original trial judge had failed to provide a substantive response to a question from the jury.

A second trial in April 2022 ended in a mistrial because of the Crown's improper cross-examination of Cartwright, according to Murray's decision.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

In her decision to terminate the most recent trial, Murray laid out a list of prejudicial remarks prosecutor Wendy Dawson had made to the jury during her closing remarks.

The judge said the Crown lawyer had "repeatedly invited the jury to engage in forbidden reasoning to assess credibility, including that only romantic or loving sex is consensual, and that the complainant reacted just as one would expect a sexual assault victim to do and did everything one can expect from a victim following a sexual assault."

The judgment goes on to say that, "It has long been recognized that there is no 'usual' way victims of sexual assault behave during or after an assault. Nor are there 'usual' types of sexual assaults."

Murray wrote that while stereotypes about sex assault are often used against victims, in this case, they worked against the accused, unfairly influencing the jury to disbelieve Cartwright's evidence.

Also at issue were Dawson's repeated references to Cartwright's statement to police during her closing, even though the statement had not been led as part of the Crown's case, according to the judgment.

There were also problems with statements Dawson made about the alleged victim's credibility, Murray said.