Subjective speculation to sweep across the Nation How Drug Recognition Experts will handle Cannabis on Canadian Roadways

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It seems like a done deal.

Legal cannabis will be in the hands of Canadians before the year is up, if, of course, Bill C-45 (the Cannabis Act) passes through its third and final reading in the Senate on June 7, 2018. Assuming it does, government approved retailers will begin stocking the sticky product sometime in late August or early September. With only a couple months to go, law enforcement officials are finalizing strategies to combat high drivers. While THC impairment screening devices are in the research and development stage, police forces will be relying on specially trained officers to identify drug impaired motorists.


These specially trained officers are known as “Drug Recognition Experts” (“DRE”), receiving the designation after completion of programming offered in jurisdictions spanning North America. Much like the preliminary steps taken in alcohol-impaired driving investigations, DRE’s make findings based whatever limited evidence is available at the time. For example, if a police constable forms reasonable suspicion of impairment by alcohol, the next step is to demand a breath sample on an Approved Screening Device. The result of that screening determines the officer’s next steps. In this context, the officer’s opinion regarding impairment is subjective only until the Approved Screening Device issues a reading. If the result is a “FAIL”, the officer can reasonably conclude that the driver is intoxicated. Discretion then allows the officer to issue an Immediate Roadside Prohibition (in British Columbia), or to continue the investigation with another breath test at the detachment, paving the way for criminal charges. 

In the case of marijuana-impaired drivers, police lack one very important resource: sound, scientific instruments to test for THC levels. Forget the debate over what constitutes “impairment” from marijuana – we can’t make any use of an identifiable range when there is no quantifying tool.

Acknowledging this, the Government of Canada has attempted to soothe concerns by assuring the public that DRE’s are absolutely qualified, that their subjective opinions are sufficient, and that their judgement is sound. But, in reality, police officers are just normal people with a job to do, and are not in any way immune to making mistakes – but in their role, fallacy holds serious consequences for public confidence.

DRE procedure is both standardized and systemic, meaning that the techniques don’t change – regardless of circumstances. Aka, it is a “one size fits all” approach. Observation is the key focus of these investigations – DRE’s making note of a subject’s behavior, attitude, and candour throughout the process. Specific observations relating to blood pressure, pulse, and ocular activity are also recorded. Subjects are asked to perform “field tests” similar to those requested in alcohol impairment investigations – walk a straight line, stand on one leg, touch your nose, etc.

The key concern with this methodology is the blind faith in an officer’s ability to provide a subjective opinion that is free from bias. Interestingly, a blood or urine test to confirm toxicology is only requested after DRE has concluded (decided) that a driver is drug-impaired. So if you’re being investigated for such an offence, your best case scenario is to waste 2-3 hours at the police detachment under observation, plus further invasive testing, before the DRE establishes that you weren’t driving stoned – you were  tired after a long night of work, just like you said.

If the Government chooses to develop an administrative penalty system for high drivers in the same way they did for alcohol impaired drivers, we are likely to see increased praise for police when fines from impounds and prohibitions come pouring in. Criminal lawyers in British Columbia are already cringing at the thought of another regime that strips individuals of their right to make full answer and defence to allegations against them – this time, in relation to drug  offences, which can create significant problems for future travel and employment prospects. 

If law enforcement’s strategy to protect our roadways involves unethical arrests, and even worse, false convictions, public perception of police integrity is sure to be compromised, and our progressive marijuana laws could end up doing more harm than good.

If you’ve been charged with drug impairment offences, it is crucial that you contact an experienced criminal lawyer without delay. We are conveniently located in Richmond, B.C., only a few steps away from Brighouse Station on the Canada Line, which brings you from various locations in Metro Vancouver in 20 minutes. We service all areas of the lower mainland (including but not limited to Surrey, New Westminster, Port Coquitlam, North Vancouver, and Abbotsford) the interior of B.C. (including but not limited to Cranbrook, Kelowna, Kamloops, and Salmon Arm), Northern B.C. (including but not limited to Prince George, Prince Rupert, and Quesnel) and in the Yukon Territory where we offer services in Whitehorse, Dawson City, and Old Crow. Contact our office today for your initial consultation.

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Bill C-75: The bad, the worse, and the ugly

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On March 29, 2018, Bill C-75 had its first reading in the House of Commons, and upon publication, was quick to receive scrutiny from lawyers across the country.

The Bill seeks to amend provisions of several key pieces of legislation, including the Criminal Code and the Youth Criminal Justice Act. However, in doing so, many rights currently afforded to an Accused will become a thing of the past.

The first major concern that stands out is the proposal to abolish the use of peremptory challenges in the jury selection process. When jurors are being selected, an Accused person and his Defence counsel are afforded 12 of these challenges, permitting them to deny a juror without explanation. Crown Counsel also has 12 challenges for their own use. The purpose of peremptory challenges is to provide balance in the adversarial trial process – however, the motivation behind their use differs depending on who you ask. The Bill doesn’t elaborate on how jury selection will be managed without peremptory challenges.

Equally alarming is the proposal to deny Preliminary Hearings for offences that don’t carry a maximum term of life imprisonment upon conviction. It is also being suggested that Justices be given power to limit issues examined and witnesses called during a Prelim. The Preliminary Hearing’s purpose is to determine whether the Crown has enough evidence to commit an Accused person to stand Trial, a valuable tool for the Defence in any given case (even if the offence doesn’t carry a potential life sentence). However, it isn’t beneficial only to the Accused. The evidence heard at a Preliminary Hearing is transcribed, to be recalled upon by parties at Trial. The issues explored at the Prelim can assist in narrowing what issues will be raised at trial, which in return reduces the likelihood of wasted court time on irrelevant issues (especially important in consideration of the impact of delay!). With the ability to seek a Direct Indictment from the Attorney General, the proposal to limit Prelims is wholly unnecessary.

Next up, and not surprisingly, we see this Bill seek to increase punitive measures for Accused persons facing allegations of abuse against an intimate partner. These consequences begin prior to any finding of guilt – in fact, they begin at the onset of proceedings, when an Accused person seeks release on bail. Bill C-75 suggests more “onerous interim release requirements” for individuals facing allegations relating to violence against an intimate partner. This essentially means that the terms of release will be increasingly stringent. On that note, the Bill also proposes to increase the maximum term of imprisonment for repeat intimate abuse offenders, and to have violence against a partner considered an aggravating factor at
sentencing.

Perhaps most disturbing is the revision relating to police powers and written evidence in the form of an Affidavit. Currently, a police officer is required to attend a trial in person to give oral evidence regarding their involvement in the case. They are subjected to cross-examination on that involvement, at which time they must truthfully answer questions posed by the Defence. This is a crucial opportunity for the Defence to raise reasonable doubt (when considering that police officers often offer the most compelling and credible evidence) which is the only reason for taking a matter to trial. Of course, the Defence will still be allowed to apply to cross-examine a police officer on their written evidence – but that application requires additional court time, and one struggles to believe that such an application would be denied in any event. So this proposed amendment will likely result in additional delay and squandered court time.

Many of these amendments strike at the heart of the adversarial process, and an Accused’s person’s right to make full answer and Defence to the charges against them. Numerous changes are procedural, justified by the assertion that too many cases are being thrown out over judicial delay. Systemic flaws, a lack of inquiry and input by judicial staff, and failure to accept and validate the concerns of concerned legal professionals in the private sector are a few of the factors that have resulted in impractical proposals pushed forward in Bill C-75.

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Basic Info: Brushing up

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                     It is commonplace that first-time offenders rarely have a good understanding of the judicial process. Although it would be fantastic if everyone was fully apprised of their rights and obligations under Canadian law, it is unrealistic. However, I hope that this post will answer a few very common questions we receive on a daily basis.

Lets get started.

Q –     I’m looking at my Court documents, and it appears that I am being charged by someone named Regina. Who is she? I don’t even know anyone by that name?

A –     Regina is the latin word for Queen. As Queen Elizabeth II is the reigning Monarch,  Regina is the term used in legal context. When a male takes the throne, the term will change to Rex, the latin word for King.

Q –     My wife and I got into a really heated argument and the police were called. I was arrested and charged with assault, and now there is a no-contact order between us. My wife and I met for dinner last night to talk things over, and we agreed that it was silly to call the police. She would like to drop the charges, how can she do this?

A –      In British Columbia, individuals do not press charges, and neither do the police. The police investigate, prepare a report, and recommend charges to Crown Counsel. Crown Counsel then reviews the information and approves or denies charges based on the strength of the evidence. There must be a reasonable likelihood of conviction to pursue prosecution. In short, your wife cannot “drop the charges”. Additionally, since there is a no contact order in place, you cannot contact your wife, directly or indirectly, until the order is lifted. Ignoring the no  contact order could result in a Breach charge, landing you in jail.

Q –     I’ve been charged with an Indictable Offence. Is that a misdemeanor?

A –      The terms “misdemeanor” and “felony” are not rooted in Canada. Those terms are used in the United States. An indictable offence is very serious and carries significantly higher penalties than the less serious “summary offence”. One major difference is that summary offences can only be tried in Provincial Court by a Judge, whereas indictable offences can be tried in Supreme Court by a Judge an Jury. There are also “hybrid offences” which can be prosecuted by summary or indictment – impaired driving is one example. The choice to proceed by indictment is usually because of aggravating circumstances such as a car accident resulting in injuries.

Q –     I was arrested for impaired driving and given a Promise to Appear (“PTA”). Several weeks later, I was contacted by the police who told me that the PTA has been cancelled. Does this mean my charges are dropped?

A –      In short: no. Your PTA was likely cancelled because the police and Crown Counsel  are still in the early stages of their investigation. Once an Accused person has  attended their First Appearance, the judicial-delay clock starts ticking. The Supreme Court of Canada recently advised that proceedings in Provincial Court should run from start to finish in no more than 18 months – this means that you   must be charged, and proceed to trial within 18 months. If the proceedings take   longer than 18 months to be heard, there is probability for the case to be thrown   out due to delay. In Superior courts, the proceedings should be completed within 30 months. So, while your PTA has been cancelled, it does not in any way mean  that you are off the hook. There is no statute in Canada that prohibits the commencement of prosecution of criminal offences. In the United States, there is no statute of limitations on murder, but there is on sexual assaults and other serious criminal offences.

Hopefully the above information has answered a few of your questions, but likely not all of them. Of course, there are many complex questions that deserve a much more thorough explanation, and we are here ready to answer them.

Whether you have been charged with a minor offence under the Criminal Code such as theft under $5,000, assault, mischief under $5,000 or a more serious offence such as aggravated assault, sexual assault, assault causing bodily harm, or murder, it is crucial that you speak to one of our lawyers prior to making any statements to the police (which we will advise you not to do in any event), or anyone else for that matter. Because, although you’ll hear it from the cops first, I’m telling you again: what you say CAN and WILL be used against you.

We are conveniently located in Richmond, B.C. only a few steps away from Brighouse Station on the Canada Line, which brings you from various locations in Metro Vancouver in 20 minutes. We service all areas of the lower mainland (including but not limited to Surrey, New Westminster, Port Coquitlam, North Vancouver, and Abbotsford) the interior of B.C. (including but not limited to Cranbrook, Kelowna, Kamloops, and Salmon Arm), Northern B.C. (including but not limited to Prince George, Prince Rupert, and Quesnel) and in the Yukon Territory where we offer services in Whitehorse, Dawson City, and Old Crow.

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You have the right to remain silent…so, why don’t you?

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What you say CAN and WILL be used  you (seriously)!

 

I think it is important to discuss the importance of exercising constitutional rights/freedoms. In particular, the right to remain silent when being questioned by law enforcement about alleged criminal activity.

Why does this seem to be the one freedom that no ordinary citizen wants to evoke? It is understandable of course – to a point. Yes, you want to be respectful and cooperative to with the police in the course of their investigation. This means conducting yourself maturely and appropriately, and politely advising the officer that you wish to exercise your right to silence – meaning you do not wish to have any further discussions whatsoever.

And you definitely are not taking the lie detector test.

There is a difference between cooperating and conceding.  Exercising your constitutional right to remain silent does not indicate guilt – it does absolutely nothing except protects your best interests, liberty, and quite literally your freedom (depending on circumstances).

Assuming guilt as a result of silence is what’s known as an adverse inference – and in the realm of criminal justice in Canada, an Accused person is protected from such an insinuation. So, there really is no downside to the advice that seems to evade people during times of crucial importance: don’t talk to the police. Remain silent. Protect your best interests. Seek legal advice. Trust the guidance you receive from seasoned legal professions. We have dedicated our livelihood to protecting the fundamental and inherent rights awarded to every single individual in this country – but in order to obtain the best possible outcome, you, the client, must have confidence in your legal counsel’s ability as your advocate.

This is best demonstrated by being mindful of the first piece of advice you will receive: DO. NOT. TALK. TO. POLICE.

Instead, advise them that any dealings they wish to have with you should be done through your criminal defence lawyer. Once retained, a criminal lawyer becomes the conduit between you and the police. This not only ensures that all communications will be appropriate and methodical – it also provides a new point of contact for the police generally.

Here is a short (non-exhaustive) list of circumstances under which seeking legal advice is strongly recommended:

1) You have been arrested and charged with a criminal offence;

2) You have been contacted by the police for a statement, interview, etc and you are unsure if you are being looked at as a suspect;

3) There is a warrant out for your arrest; or

4) You have reason to believe you will be investigated, arrested, or charged in the near future.

We are conveniently located in Richmond, B.C. only a few steps away from Brighouse Station on the Canada Line, which brings you from various locations in Metro Vancouver in 20 minutes. We service all areas of the lower mainland (including but not limited to Surrey, New Westminster, Port Coquitlam, North Vancouver, and Abbotsford) the interior of B.C. (including but not limited to Cranbrook, Kelowna, Kamloops, and Salmon Arm), Northern B.C. (including but not limited to Prince George, Prince Rupert, and Quesnel) and in the Yukon Territory where we offer services in Whitehorse, Dawson City, and Old Crow.

Whether the crime is violent (assault, aggravated assault, sexual assault, assault causing bodily harm, manslaughter, murder), financial (fraud over/under $5,000, possession of stolen credit cards, forgery), or falls under any other category, the experienced criminal defence lawyers at Tarnow Law Offices are well equip and ready to help navigate you through this difficult time from start to finish.

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Weighing the Evidence: Scales of Justice

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The scales of justice weighed in favour of an Accused woman earlier this week, when the Ontario Superior Court upheld her acquittal of impaired driving related charges in Ontario.

Kimberly McLachlan was acquitted of impaired driving in August 2015 after she succeeded in having evidence inadmissible at Trial – her breathalyzer readings, to be specific. This is known as a Charter application, as it seeks to have evidence excluded based on a breach of a Charter protected right.

Her application was based on the fact that when she taken to the police detachment, where she was required to provide a breathalyzer sample, the arresting officers’ had her stand on a scale so that they could have an accurate record of her weight.

Unfortunately, their attempt to be thorough actually triggered a breach of Ms. McLachlan’s section 8 under the Charter – providing protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

It is not part of standard procedure that the police would weigh a person who has been arrested on suspicion of impaired driving. The Judge confirmed that weighing a person is a violation similar in nature to taking bodily fluids (such as a urine or blood) without a warrant.

It is nuances like this – something seemingly harmless – that will catch the attention of a skilled criminal lawyer. Circumstances like these demonstrate the necessity of hiring a criminal lawyer who is familiar with Charter protected rights.

Impaired driving is a particularly complex offence, with a variety of available defences that must be reviewed in tandem with your unique circumstances. Contact our office today for a consultation that will allow us to come familiar with your situation.

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PTSD: Post-Trial Struggles & Dysphoria Life after Judgement: Juror Edition

PTSD: Post-Trial Struggles & Dysphoria Life after Judgement: Juror Edition

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Dialogue surrounding mental illness echoes from the walls of nearly every courtroom across the country, which won’t come as a surprise to anyone. When dealing with an Accused person, both Crown and Defence will investigate what their client’s state of mind was like during the commission of the offence – it speaks to intent, which is a very important component in analyzing the intricacies of criminal behavior.

If Crown Counsel proceeds by way of Indictment (as opposed to summarily), the Accused will have the option of having their case heard by a Judge and Jury. If they so choose to have a Jury, members of the public will receive a summons to attend Jury Selection. Some will be chosen, and some will be dismissed. All who are chosen to sit on the jury will not have a say in what their role will be – they are bound by civic duty to fully participate.

Lengthy criminal trials are not uncommon – Robert Pickton’s Trial in 2007 lasted nearly a year, with lawyers calling 129 witnesses, and generating over 1.3 million documents. 129 individuals providing testimony, often gruesome and violent in nature, falling on the ears of 12 every day citizens, none of whom requested to put their lives on hold for a year. Jurors are required to view photo and video evidence, regardless of how brutal those images may be.

But, what happens to jurors once the Trial is over? One would assume that they gladly return to the nuisances of the life they had before the Trial. Sadly, however, many never return to their normal lives.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is often associated with mental illness – however, this is not a fact. PTSD is a psychiatric injury. After repetitive exposure to traumatic situations, the human psyche may succumb to the disturbance. This is rarely immediate – recurring nightmares or overwhelming thoughts are normal to a point. Fresh events remain fresh in our minds.

It is the fog, cotton-in-your-ears feeling, and anxiety that will indicate the onset of PTSD weeks or months after the trauma has occurred. It can be a very isolating and numbing experience – and for whatever reason, societal stigma or taboo, people tend to carry a lot of shame with their PTSD diagnosis. And it is no different for jurors like the ones who sat on Pickton’s jury.

After hearing weeks of testimony, a juror can feel a genuine, bona fide connection with the victim(s). This is amplified when the victim’s family and friends are present for the Trial. Huge internal conflict can erupt when a juror must balance their responsibility and duty to the Court with their own morals and values. This internal back-and-forth is another burden, on top of what they have seen and heard, that they will be left to deal with on their own when jury duty is over.

So what responsibility does our government have to jurors afflicted with PTSD as a result of their participation at Trial? It would not be absurd to consider them as victims of crime. As such, they should have access to every single resource that is made available to the victims of first instance.

Last month in Ontario, the provincial government began offering free counselling for juror members, available either at the end of the coroner’s inquest, or at the end of the Trial. Only time will tell how receptive jurors are to the program, which sadly, hangs on the willingness of individuals to fight against PTSD and its crippling side effects.


 

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