A Surrey man who pleaded guilty in Surrey provincial court to assaulting his wife of 28 years has had his conviction and sentence overturned after claiming he was denied the right to a fair trial because he was not properly represented by his lawyer.
“The appeal is allowed, the guilty plea, finding of guilt, and sentence are set aside, and the matter is remitted to the provincial court,” Justice Paul Riley decided in B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster. “This would mean the entire process would have to start over again in the provincial court.”
This is despite the fact Roman Chromy pleaded guilty to the charge and was sentenced based on a joint submission from the Crown and defence.
“At first blush, one might reasonably ask how Mr. Chromy could possibly advance an appeal in such circumstances. However, the focus of Mr. Chromy’s appeal is on the validity of his guilty plea,” Riley noted in his May 21 reasons for judgment. “He says he was not properly represented by his trial counsel, and that he did not understand the nature and consequences of his plea. He says, as a result, that his presumption of innocence was overridden and he was denied the right to a fair trial.“
The court heard the charge arose from an incident at Chromy’s home in Surrey on May 3, 2020, when his family was having a barbecue. An argument broke out between Chromy, his sister and his wife, Riley noted, and Chromy “got angry” and allegedly grabbed his wife by the neck. His son intervened, hitting his dad in the face.
“The police attended and arrested Mr. Chromy, who was described by the police as inebriated,” Riley noted.
Chromy was held in custody overnight, then released on bail. The joint submission, in Surrey provincial court, was for Chromy to receive a conditional discharge with 12 months probation, to which the judge agreed.
But Chromy was not pleased with the outcome and filed a notice of appeal on Nov. 3, 2o20. Chromy filed an affidavit saying he is not guilty and would not have pleaded guilty if he’d been told he would have a criminal record.
Riley noted that for a guilty plea to be valid it must be voluntary and informed.
“I find that Mr. Chromy did not in fact understand that his plea was an admission of the essential elements of the offence of assault,” Riley decided.
“I am satisfied on a balance of probabilities that had Mr. Chromy been properly informed about the nature and consequences of the plea, he would have proceeded differently, and would not have entered a guilty plea.”