Court Acquits Man Who Stabbed Wife 'Involuntarily'

Canada's Jean-Luc Charles Perignon was ruled to be 'effectively asleep'
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 3, 2023 10:20 AM CST
Husband Who Stabbed Wife Is Cleared: He Was 'Asleep'
   (Getty / Zolnierek)

A Canadian man who definitely stabbed his wife has been found not guilty of the crime. In a stunning case of "automatism," British Columbia's Supreme Court found Jean-Luc Charles Perignon was "effectively asleep" when he stabbed his then-wife, Debra, in the back with a kitchen knife after an Easter dinner in 2017, reports CBC News. Perignon said he committed the act involuntarily after consuming alcohol and prescription drugs. He said he had three or four drinks with dinner, then took an antidepressant and opioids used to treat pain before downing a sleeping pill about 10 minutes before heading to bed. "His next memory is standing over his wife while she was lying on the floor in front of him, screaming in pain," according to the ruling.

Debra, who survived the attack, heard her husband's footsteps behind her but didn't hear him speak, per the CBC and Vancouver Sun. When she felt a thud in her back, she reached around and pulled out the knife, badly cutting her thumb in the process. Perignon "remembers seeing the kitchen knife on the floor near her. He was in shock," the ruling adds. He then called 911. Perignon was charged with one count of aggravated assault but claimed automatism, a rare defense positing unconscious, involuntary behavior. Noting Perignon bore "a heavy burden to demonstrate that the ordinary presumption should not apply," Justice Warren Milman determined his actions were likely "entirely involuntary."

The court was told Perignon had suffered withdrawal after quitting a benzodiazepine used to treat insomnia, which wasn't to be taken with opioids. After other medications failed to work, he was prescribed zopiclone, which also poses risks when mixed with opioids, and was instructed to slowly increase the dosage until effective. At the time of the attack, he was taking far too much along with a "dangerously high dosage of opioids," a psychiatrist testified, concluding Perignon was "more likely than not … in a state of complex sleep-related behaviors" and "would not be aware of his actions nor be able to form basic intent." In a similar automatism ruling last year, per Rabble, Canada's Supreme Court determined a criminal conviction requires "a guilty action" and "a guilty mind." (More acquittal stories.)

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