Search and Seizure – Know Your Rights
By Sriram Rangan – Licensed Paralegal
In a recent decision, the Ontario Court of Justice set aside damning evidence in the case of a Brampton man charged with possession of marijuana. The Court found that the search of the car during which marijuana was found was illegal. This decision resulted in the exclusion by the judge of marijuana found during the search, and the charge, possession of marijuana set aside.
The accused admitted outright that the bag of the drug found in the trunk of his car was, indeed his, and that there was an open container of liquor – a glass containing alcohol belonging to the passenger – in the car. The officer conducted the subsequent search pursuant to Ontario Liquor License Act, R.S.O. 1990, Chapter L.19 was deemed to be unwarranted.
The reason for this is that the initial search was meant to locate an open alcohol container within the vehicle where it was available to the occupants of the vehicle. Nevertheless, officers went beyond searching the cabin of the vehicle by searching a shopping bag within the trunk where the marijuana, approximately 110 grams, was found.
The officer did have authority to search the front and rear passenger area of the accused’s vehicle under the law, the real issue is whether the further search of the contents of the defendant’s trunk was lawful. The court found that that since the contents of the trunk would not have been reasonably available to the occupants, the presence of alcohol in the trunk would not have been unlawful and therefore there existed no lawful power to search. Moreover to open and search a closed shopping bag was beyond the law.
Even the most serious citizen does not always know the ins and outs of the law. In this case, had the accused not arranged for legal counsel, the Provincial courts might merely have taken him at his word and convicted him of the crime to which he confessed – possession of marijuana. We understand that being pulled over and accused of a crime can be very stressful. It’s easy at times such as these for you to say things you shouldn’t and behave in ways that do not help you. For this reason, and others, we encourage you to try to stay calm and volunteer no information until you’ve had a chance to speak to your legal counsel.
Officers of the law and of the court must be expected to do their jobs well and thoroughly. They are professionals who must comply with the highest standards. Nevertheless, all human beings can make mistakes. In this case the officers in question exceeded their authority by searching the trunk of the car to which the occupants of the vehicle had no access and, in addition, searching inside a shopping bag that obviously did not contain anything shaped like bottles or cans. Since their authority to search depended upon a search for alcohol to which the occupants had access, the officers were guilty of some misconduct. The court opined as follows:
“ I found aspects of (the arresting officer’s) evidence to be self-serving and less than credible, especially regarding his reason for believing there might be alcohol in the trunk of the car. In my view, that further moves the state conduct in this case towards the spectrum of misconduct favouring exclusion (of the marijuana evidence.)”
Here are two good rules to follow in any situation in which you might be charged with a crime:
- It is a good rule of thumb not to offer any admissions until and unless you have seen and spoken to your legal representative.
- Seeking legal counsel even – perhaps especially – when you’ve been caught with the goods, is critically important.
At Vegan’s Legal Services, we are committed to helping you overcome legal crises. Let our knowledge of the statutes help keep you out of the courtroom. Call us when and if you find yourself in legal trouble.
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