Supreme Court to rule on magic mushroom-fueled assault case in Calgary

The nation’s highest court is set to hear a Calgary case involving a university student who, while naked and stoned with mushrooms, attacked a professor with a broomstick after breaking into her home.

Former Mount Royal University student Matthew Brown has been charged with breaking and entering and aggravated assault after a 2018 incident that left Janet Hamnett with broken bones in her hands.

This is one of three cases the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) released on Friday that address the issue of whether the defense of extreme intoxication to automatism is available to those who have chosen take drugs and end up committing acts of violence.

Two Ontario cases – known as Sullivan and Chan – were argued together and are also expected to be released on Friday morning as the SCC clarifies the non-mental disorder automatism law.

Fatal attack on the father

In these cases, two men – David Sullivan and Thomas Chan – used drugs and then, in states of psychosis, stabbed family members. Sullivan injured his mother while Chan killed his father.

In his case, Brown estimated he had taken around 2.5 grams of magic mushrooms and drank around 12-14 ounces of vodka plus “a few beers” before attacking Hamnett at her home, where he was “slapping” her hands Many times.

Twenty-eight years ago, Parliament made amendments to the Criminal Code, banning the defense of self-induced intoxication, but resulting in “a poorly drafted section”, which “caused judges to give different interpretations. wrote Lisa Silver, a law professor at the University of Calgary, in a blog post on the cases.

Silver said in his post that the SCC needed to weigh in on the law in this area as judges continued to come to different conclusions.

The case proceeds on 3 levels of court

Ahead of Brown’s 2019 trial, a Calgary judge struck down legislation that bars the use of the defense in similar cases, clearing the way for attorney Sean Fagan to argue that his client was incapable of forming the defense. intent required to commit the crimes.

In May 2020, Brown, described by Fagan as “a good man who did something completely out of character”, was acquitted by a Superior Court judge at the conclusion of the trial.

At the time, the case was believed to be the only one in Canada involving a successful defense of extreme intoxication under the influence of magic mushrooms.

But 14 months later, the Alberta Court of Appeal overturned the acquittal, convicting Brown of aggravated assault after ruling he should bear the consequences of illegal drug use “in reckless disregard of the risks possible”.

Link between intoxication and violent crime

Fagan took the case to the Supreme Court of Canada, arguing in November that the nation’s highest court should restore Brown’s acquittal.

In their 47-page brief, Fagan and co-lawyer Michelle Biddulph argued that Brown could not appreciate the nature and consequences of his actions and therefore should not face a criminal conviction “for conduct whose they didn’t know about or they couldn’t control”.

“The law tells them that they were responsible for this criminal conduct because they engaged in lawful and mundane activities, without any subjective or objective foresight that a state of automatism and subsequent criminal offenses might result. “

But in its brief, the prosecution pointed out that there is an ‘unquestionable’ correlation between intoxication and violent crime and argued that those who use substances and then lose control ‘must not be rewarded with immunity of criminal prosecution”.

“Anyone who chooses to become so intoxicated that they lose all conscious control and risk their life and create risk of injury and possibly death to others is not engaging in morally innocent behavior,” wrote prosecutor Deborah Alford.

The case saw nine interveners, including five attorneys general from across Canada as well as the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the Empowerment Council and the Women’s Legal and Action Fund (LEAF).

The SCC’s decision will be made public at 7:45 a.m. MT.

Janet Hamnett was badly beaten in January 2018 by Matthew Brown after breaking into her home. She had broken hands. (Judicial exposure)

The attack

In 2018, Brown was a student at Mount Royal University. It’s the same school where Janet Hamnett was a teacher, but the connection was purely coincidental.

Brown was a student athlete, having captained the college hockey team for several years, and he had no criminal record.

One night in January, he met up with friends at a house in the southwest community of Springbank Hill.

The friends were drinking and taking magic mushrooms. It was the second time Brown had used the drug, according to his testimony. He said he had a positive experience the first time.

Just before 4 a.m., Brown’s friends noticed him standing naked outside the door. He then ran outside and disappeared into the dark neighborhood.

A “terrible explosion”

Nearby, Hamnett, who lived alone, was awakened by what she described in her testimony as a “horrible explosion” – the sound of her sliding glass door shattering.

As she got out of bed to explore, Hamnett came face to face with Brown, who then began attacking her, hitting her repeatedly with a broomstick.

Suddenly Brown stopped and left the house. Hamnett was able to lock himself in a bathroom before running to a neighbor and knocking on his door until he woke up.

Hamnett was covered in blood and suffered wounds to her hands, which she had wrapped in towels.

The neighbor called police, who eventually found Brown inside the home of another Springbank Hill resident.

When police discovered Brown, he was still naked and “screaming like an animal”, according to reports.

“Not OK for it to get out of control”

At trial, psychologist Dr Thomas Dalby testified that Brown was in a state of “short-term but acute delirium” at the time of the offences.

A doctor specializing in forensic toxicology testified that Brown likely experienced an episode of delirium during which he was unaware of his surroundings and may have suffered from delusions and hallucinations.

Brown repeatedly expressed remorse and twice apologized to Hamnett, in court and in court after his acquittal.

But Hamnett’s family expressed mixed emotions about Brown.

On the one hand, they didn’t think he deserved to be “severely punished”, but on the other hand, Brown willfully took an illegal substance and should be held accountable by the justice system somehow. another, they say.

“It’s not right to lose control and hurt people,” Hamnett’s daughter, Lara Unsworth, said at the time of her acquittal.