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Sex assault charges dropped after second mistrial in Lower Mainland case

Langley-area man had been tried three times
Statue of Lady Justice outside B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster. (Black Press Media files)

WARNING: This story discusses a sexual assault case

After three trials and two mistrials, charges have been stayed against a man accused of sexual assault in the Langley area.

Justice Catherine Murray declared the latest and last mistrial on Nov. 10, in the trial of Matthew Dwayne Cartwright.

Cartwright had been charged with sexual assault for an alleged incident on Nov. 13, 2016.

He was accused of performing sexual acts on a woman who was sleeping over on the couch at this apartment, after they had met earlier that night at a Langley pub. Cartwright had argued at a previous trial that he thought the encounter was consensual.

The first trial took place in 2018, and ended with a guilty verdict and a 30-month prison sentence.

However, Cartwright successfully appealed, and in 2021, the Court of Appeal ordered a new trial.

His next trial, in April of this year, ended in a mistrial as a result of an improper cross examination of Cartwright by the Crown lawyer in that case.

The third trial took place in October in New Westminster Supreme Court, but after closing arguments, the defense raised issues with the judge about Crown lawyer Wendy Dawson’s arguments.

Murray agreed that the jury could no longer fairly judge the case, and ruled for a second mistrial.

The judge concurred with Cartwright’s lawyer that the Crown had acted improperly when making closing arguments.

“In essence, the Crown asked the jury to rely on facts that were not in evidence,” Murray wrote in her ruling.

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Murray also said that the jury was asked to draw conclusions from the evidence based on “impermissible stereotypical reasoning.”

“Stereotypical reasoning” in sexual assault cases usually refers to how defence lawyers have, in the past, often characterized sexual assault victims. Judges and lawyers have questioned how sex assault victims “ought to” have acted in the aftermath of an assault, for example.

In this case, the Crown lawyer in the case used stereotypes to reinforce the victim’s reliability and cast doubt on the accused’s, Murray ruled.

“The courts have for many years strongly cautioned both counsel and the court to be aware of stereotypical thinking and to avoid forbidden reasoning as it can lead to unjust outcomes,” Murray wrote. “The caution applies equally to victims and accuseds. In this case, by repeatedly engaging dangerous stereotypical reasoning, the Crown was telling the jury that Mr. Cartwright’s version of events could not be true and that the complainant should be believed. What made it all the more dangerous is that throughout her lengthy two-day cross examination of Mr. Cartwright, Crown counsel engaged the same impermissible reasoning numerous times despite being cautioned.”

She wrote that “due to the volume and extent of the Crown counsel’s improper submissions,” the trial’s fairness had been compromised beyond saving, and ordered the mistrial.

After the second mistrial, the B.C. Prosecution Service decided not to proceed with a fourth trial.

An emailed statement from BCPS spokesperson Dan McLaughlin said that the Crown concluded “the charge assessment standard was not met.”

Among other requirements, the BCPS only moves forward with charges when the evidence “provides a substantial likelihood of conviction.”

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Matthew Claxton

About the Author: Matthew Claxton

Raised in Langley, as a journalist today I focus on local politics, crime and homelessness.
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