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B.C. man not guilty of stabbing wife because he was 'effectively asleep,' court finds

B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver

A B.C. man who stabbed his wife in the back was acquitted of aggravated assault after a judge found he was likely to have been "effectively asleep" at the time.

Jean-Luc Charles Perignon admitted to stabbing his wife with a kitchen knife at their home on the Sunshine Coast in 2017. The B.C. Supreme Court ruling that he was not guilty was posted online Wednesday.

Justice Warren Milman summarized Perignon's defence in his decision.

"He claims that he was in a state of automatism, unassociated with any mental disorder, as a result of having consumed a cocktail of prescription drugs and alcohol prior to the incident," he wrote.

"Such a defence will rarely succeed. The courts are justifiably reluctant to acquit on that ground due to policy concerns about the feignability of such a condition and the need to maintain respect for the administration of justice. Because the law assumes that, in general, people act voluntarily and are responsible for their actions, Mr. Perignon bears a heavy burden to demonstrate that the ordinary presumption should not apply here."

Ultimately, Milman found that burden was met.


On April 17, 2017 – which was Easter Monday -- Perignon and his wife had a holiday dinner with their three adult daughters, the court heard. While the two daughters who testified said he was acting normal and seemed in good spirits, his wife testified that he was “a bit more off, more than normal.”

According to the ruling, the couple did not argue over the holiday weekend but were sleeping in separate bedrooms because of Perignon's "ongoing struggles with insomnia."

His wife had sent her youngest daughter to bed around 10 p.m. and was walking toward the front door to let the dog out when she heard her husband coming down the stairs, the court heard.

"She never saw him, nor did she hear him say anything. She felt a “thump” in her back and realised she had been stabbed. She reached behind her back for the knife and pulled it out herself, cutting her thumb badly in the process. She recalls screaming and having trouble breathing," the decision says.

Perignon testified that the last thing he remembers from before the stabbing is taking off his shoes and socks and getting into bed.

"His next memory is standing over his wife while she was lying on the floor in front of him, screaming in pain. He remembers seeing the kitchen knife on the floor near her. He was in shock. He did not know how he had got to the front door on the ground floor – his bedroom was on the second floor," the court documents say.

"He recalls running back up the stairs to his bedroom to retrieve his cell phone in order to call 911. He locked himself in the bedroom because he feared he might pose a danger to the others present in the house."

When the police arrived, Perignon was arrested and taken to jail.


Perignon was first prescribed opioids after he was hit by a car and suffered a fractured spine in 2002. Another car accident in 2007 exacerbated his condition. Over time, he depended on "escalating dosages of opioids to control his pain," the court heard.

He was taking these drugs for pain in combination with a benzodiazepine he had been using for insomnia since the 80s which he said was effective at helping him sleep.

In 2016, the judge explained, B.C. made a change to its guidelines for doctors to "prohibit the prescription of benzodiazepines or sedative hypnotics together with opioids."

Perignon's doctor informed him that he would have to discontinue his prescription of either one medication or the other. He chose, the judge said, to forego the medication for his insomnia. What followed was a period of fairly intense withdrawal and a number of unsuccessful attempts to treat the insomnia with a different medication.

In January of 2017, Perignon was prescribed Zopiclone. Milman quoted from a report entered into evidence that said one of the side effects of this drug is what are known as "complex sleep behaviours," which are "complex activities, normally associated with wakefulness, that occur when the subject is in a sleep-like state,” the judge explained.

At the time of the stabbing, Perignon was taking an amount of this drug "well beyond the recommended range of prescription for this medication” combined with a "dangerously high dosage of opioids," the judge said. On the night of the stabbing he had also had four alcoholic drinks.


Two experts testified in Perignon's defence. One concluded that he would have been at least impaired by the drugs, which would have diminished his ability to understand the consequences of his actions. The second expert's assessment was more categorical.

"More likely than not, he was in a state of complex sleep-related behaviours. As such, Mr. Perignon would not be aware of his actions nor be able to form basic intent," said psychiatrist Dr. Shaohua Lu.

In addition to expert evidence, the judge said the apparent lack of motive supported the defense's argument that he did not intend to harm his wife.

"Mr. Perignon’s act is very difficult to explain in any way other than as the defence urges. Not only was there no argument between Mr. and Ms. Perignon in the leadup to the incident, they had their children staying with them in the house that weekend. I am left with no explanation as to why Mr. Perignon, if he was indeed acting intentionally, would have chosen that moment in particular to attack his wife," Milman wrote.

"Conversely, the fact that he immediately called 911 and was evidently anxious for help to arrive quickly, tends to negate the suggestion that he consciously intended to cause her harm at any stage."

While the judge noted that there was no history of "complex sleep behaviours," there was also no history of violence in the relationship.

The Crown argued that statements Perignon made on the night of the stabbing call were evidence that he was aware of his actions and that they were intentional. He told 911 dispatchers "it wasn’t a killing wound" and told first responders that he "just did something really stupid,” the court heard.

The judge found that his statements did not amount to an admission of intent, but were more likely a product of his attempt at "reconstructing events to explain what had occurred, without having actually experienced it consciously."

The Crown also said that Perignon's testimony combined with the 911 records showed that he only took the Zopiclone minutes before the stabbing. That, it was argued, would not have been enough time for the medication to take effect.

The judge did not find sufficient evidence to support this or the Crown's argument that Perignon acted voluntarily.

"I have concluded that Mr. Perignon was, at a minimum, operating in a severely impaired state of mind at the material time. Although it is possible that he acted intentionally despite that impairment, the more likely explanation for his conduct is that it was entirely involuntary because it occurred while he was effectively asleep," Milman wrote.

"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."

The couple, the judge noted, is no longer married and Perignon's wife has not had any contact with him since the stabbing.

Roughly one month after his arrest, Perignon had stopped taking opioids entirely and was back on the benzodiazepine for his insomnia and has had "no difficulty sleeping" since, according to the decision. Top Stories

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