Two Ontario Cases Fall Apart As a Result of Police Failure to Immediately Inform of Right to Counsel

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

The Ontario Court of Justice has recently excluded significant evidence in two criminal cases involving impaired driving after ruling that police had violated the accuseds’ Charter rights by failing to immediately inform them of their right to counsel.

In the first case, Justice Craig Parry excluded breath samples from the driver’s trial due to a Charter breach, which resulted in a charge of driving with a blood-alcohol content above the legal limit to be dismissed.

In another case earlier this month, a man was found not guilty of having care or control of a vehicle while impaired by a drug when Justice Scott Latimer threw out the evidence after ruling that police had violated his Charter rights.

RIGHT TO COUNSEL

The right to counsel is a fundamental right included in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (“Charter”).

10.  Everyone has the right on arrest or detention:

b.  to retain and instruct counsel without delay and to be informed of that right;

Under the Charter, the detainee must be informed of the right to retain and instruct counsel “without delay”, which has been interpreted to mean “immediately”. The Supreme Court of Canada has made it clear in the case of R. v. Suberu that avoiding delay helps to protect against the risk of self-incrimination and interference with an individual’s liberty. This obligation also requires police to abstain from obtaining incriminatory evidence from the detainee until he/she has had a reasonable chance to contact a lawyer, or the detainee has unequivocally waived the right to do so.

The police have both an informational duty and an implementational duty upon arrest or detention. The police must both inform the accused of the right to retain counsel and must provide the detainee with a reasonable opportunity to retain and instruct counsel. Justice Abella, speaking for the Supreme Court of Canada in the case of R. v. Taylor, stated:

The duty to inform a detained person of his or her right to counsel arises ”immediately” upon arrest or detention (Suberu, at paras 41-42) and the duty to facilitate access to a lawyer, in turn, arises immediately upon the detainee’s request to speak to counsel. The arresting officer is therefore under a constitutional obligation to facilitate the requested access to counsel at the first reasonably available opportunity. The burden is on the Crown to show that a given delay was reasonable in the circumstances.

WHAT HAPPENED IN THE CASE OF COLIN MITCHELL?

On October 9, 2016, a report was received by police of a possible impaired driver exiting Highway 401 at Highway 8. Constable Karen Marquis received the dispatch and pulled over the vehicle that Colin Mitchell (“Mitchell”) was driving. Mitchell failed a breathalyzer test and was then arrested. The officer waited 11 minutes after the arrest to read Mitchell his rights to counsel. In the back of the police cruiser Mitchell told the officer that he wanted to call a lawyer. He was not allowed to make the call until he arrived at the police station. Mitchell was finally given the chance to make a phone call to duty counsel 51 minutes after being placed under arrest.

On February 22, 2018, Justice Parry found that the officer breached her obligation to inform Mitchell of his right to counsel without delay and breached her implementational duty to facilitate access to counsel at the first reasonable opportunity. Justice Parry concluded that the evidence gathered in this case (the breath samples) was evidence that was attained in a manner that infringed the accused’s right to counsel. Justice Parry stated,

Exclusion of the evidence is the only remedy that can, in these circumstances, prevent bringing the administration of justice into further disrepute. To do otherwise would be to condone a perpetual indifference to the knowledge of the basic obligations created by one of the most important Charter rights.

Justice Parry, therefore, excluded the results of the breathalyzer test due to the delay in informing Mitchell of his right to counsel. The charge of driving with more than the legal limit of alcohol in his blood was dismissed.

WHAT HAPPENED IN THE CASE OF ANDREW DAVIS?

On July 17, 2016, a civilian reported a case of bad driving to the Waterloo Regional Police. Constable Tyler Shipp located the vehicle in question in a parking lot in Waterloo and Andrew Davis (“Davis”) was found in the driver’s seat. The officer spoke to Davis through an open window. Davis had sunglasses on, no shirt and was slightly dishevelled. Davis’ speech was described by the officer as garbled. The officer directed Davis to remove his sunglasses and observed Davis’ eyes to be “swollen, half open, very drowsy”.  Another officer, Constable McKenna, arrived on scene to administer a Standard Field Sobriety Test.

Following the sobriety test, Davis was arrested, handcuffed and placed in the back of the police cruiser. Drug paraphernalia, prescription drugs and what the officer thought was a meth pipe were located inside Davis’ vehicle. Eight minutes after his arrest, Davis was read his rights to counsel by police. These rights should have been read immediately following his arrest.

On March 6, 2018, Justice Latimer held that a violation of section 10(b) of the Charter occurred as a result of the police failure to provide Davis with his rights to counsel without delay upon arrest. Due to the Charter violation, Justice Latimer excluded important evidence, including all of the items seized from Davis’ vehicle and his post-arrest statement made to the police. Justice Latimer concluded that the Crown had failed to prove that Davis was impaired by a drug at the time of his care or control of his motor vehicle.

If you have been charged with impaired driving or any other driving offence, contact one of the experienced Oshawa criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP for a free consultation. We have a 24-hour phone service for your convenience. Contact our office online or at 905-404-1947.