B.C. court acquits man of stabbing his wife, finds he was in state of 'automatism'
VANCOUVER — A judge in British Columbia has acquitted a man of stabbing his partner with a kitchen knife, agreeing with defence arguments that the accused was in a drug and alcohol-induced state of "automatism" at the time.
Jean-Luc Perignon, now in his early 60s, admits to the April 2017 stabbing at the home he shared with his then-wife on B.C.'s Sunshine Coast, but argued he should not be convicted of aggravated assault because he had consumed alcohol and powerful prescribed drugs, robbing him of voluntary thought or intention.
In his decision, Justice Warren Milman outlines Perignon's difficulties with extreme pain from two separate motor vehicle accidents, leading to an opioid prescription described in the judgment as "dangerously high" and above a level that would be "fatal for someone naive to opioids."
Perignon's severe insomnia, meanwhile, led to a prescription for the sedative zopiclone, which the judgment says can be linked to "activities, normally associated with wakefulness, that occur when the subject is in a sleep-like state.”
In the six days before the stabbing, Milman writes Perignon "experimented" with rapidly increasing doses and on the night of the attack, the opioids plus "three or four" alcoholic drinks wiped his memory of most events except "standing over his wife while she was lying on the floor in front of him, screaming in pain."
In finding Perignon not guilty, Milman rejects Crown arguments that Perignon understood his actions by admitting immediately after the stabbing that he had "just done something really stupid," instead writing "the more likely explanation for his conduct is that it was entirely involuntary because it occurred while he was effectively asleep."
"It is possible," writes Milman, that Perignon acted intentionally despite his "severely impaired state of mind" but notes even Crown counsel concedes the case was "close to the line."
"He also concedes that there was no apparent motive for the stabbing and that the trigger for that act, if there was one, appears to lie in the pattern of Mr. Perignon’s consumption of prescription medications and alcohol," says Milman of the Crown's case.
In the month after the stabbing, the judgment says Perignon had entirely weaned himself off opioids and had resumed taking other types of sleeping pills instead of zopiclone.
Perignon has had "no difficulty" sleeping since then, writes Milman.
His judgment refers to testimony from psychiatrist Dr. Shaohua Lu who said the stabilized sleep patterns are "highly consistent" with a finding that Perignon was suffering from "severe sleep disorder" at the time of the attack.
"I am satisfied on a balance of probabilities that the offence with which Mr. Perignon stands charged was not a voluntary act but was committed while he was in a state of non-mental disorder automatism," concludes Milman.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 2, 2023.
The Canadian Press