Justice

Nova Scotia Court of Appeal awards new trial for former sex worker

Michelle Marie Francis was convicted in April 2017 of assault causing bodily harm

The appeal of the Michelle Marie Francis case was heard in the Court of Appeal in Halifax in November.   Payge Woodard

The Court of Appeal has granted a new trial for Michelle Marie Francis, who was convicted of stabbing a man in 2015.

Francis, 35, was convicted of assault causing bodily harm in April 2017. She claimed it was self-defence.

On Nov. 29, her case was heard in Nova Scotia’s appeal court. Francis’s lawyer, Roger Burrill, argued that the trial judge, Alain Begin, wrongly convicted his client because he mistakenly interpreted the law.

The appeal court released its decision Wednesday ordering the new trial.

“The judge’s errors played a meaningful role in his assessment of reasonable pursuant of the Criminal Code of self-defence. His errors had a critical effect on his assessment of reasonableness and, therefore, on the verdict. I would allow the appeal,” said Justice Linda Lee Oland for the three-member appeal panel.

Francis was a sex trade worker in Sydney on Sept. 18, 2015, when Douglas Barrett offered her drugs and money in exchange for sex. He also wanted her to spend the night at his place, which she had done before. Barrett had been a regular customer of Francis’s for five years.

During her trial in provincial court, Francis testified that Barrett had a reputation with other sex trade workers, that he had been abusive and confined them to his basement when they wanted to leave. Francis noted he had not abused her in the past.

During their encounter in 2015, Francis stabbed Barrett in the back when he attacked her.

“He was on top of me. I told him I wanted to leave, just let me go,” she testified during her trial.

Begin’s ruling was based on the laws of self-defence and consent. He agreed Francis didn’t give consent and was sexually assaulted, but disagreed on her claim of self-defence. The judge ruled Francis’s reaction to the situation wasn’t reasonable, which led to her conviction.

“Ms. Francis could easily have left when Mr. Barrett went to the bathroom. She didn’t,” Begin said at Francis’s trial.

“Really, the first violent act was the stabbing. I’m not saying that going on top of someone is not a violent act, the threat of sexual assault. That can be a threat of a violent act, but at that point in time, I don’t think consent was an issue,” Begin said.

Francis was sentenced to 300 days in jail, which she served while waiting for her trial, and 24 months of probation. The judge also said she couldn’t have firearms.

A new trial date has not been set.