Friday, May 6, 2011

Tension Between Charter And Drug Busts

   The court day had a surprise. One of the three witnesses for the federal crown found himself pronounced guilty the day before of an assault in an unrelated case and he now faces charges of perjury. Scratch one witness.
   That still left many characters in a trial concerning a Rock Creek marijuana bust dating back to December 10, 2009.
   The encounter actually began with two officers setting up a road-check 15 km east of Kelowna.    
   During the 9am check for driver’s licences, insurance and vehicle safety, an officer encountered a man in a Jeep, with his girlfriend, allegedly driving to a funeral in Cranbrook.
   The policeman became suspicious when the driver began a conversation before he had even pulled his vehicle up to the stopping point. It was enhanced when the driver said he had forgotten his wallet.
   The officer, who had served with the RCMP since July, 2000, was further troubled when the female passenger didn’t know the name of the deceased at the funeral.
   The officer did a computer check and found that the driver had been suspected on three occasions of being involved with drugs or guns. The authorities had never charged him with any offences.
   The officer also ascertained that the stopped driver was carrying a large amount of money in $50’s and $20’s.
   The officer felt the Jeep was probably carrying drugs and radioed for a sniffer-dog. The closest dog was in Osoyoos.
   The officer had already held the driver for 14 minutes and could not detain him longer without an arrest. There was not evidence to justify one. After determining that the driver’s insurance and car-registration papers were in proper order, he released the driver, vehicle and passenger to continue on their way.
   The policeman did, however, then ask the Osoyoos dog-handler to intercept the travellers in Rock Creek.
   The two road-check officers then followed five minutes behind the suspect vehicle.
   At 11am, in Rock Creek, the dog-officer drove behind the suspect who pulled over. The road-check police cars soon joined. The suspect driver suddenly found his driver’s licence.
   The police searched the vehicle and found vacuumed sealed bags of marijuana and thousands of dollars in cash.
   The defence is arguing — and if past criminal court defence precedence continues, will continue to argue — that there was no cause to pull the vehicle into a search. The driver gave no indication of wrong doing, had no criminal record, and had complied fully with the police road-check. Defence is saying, and will say, that carrying money is not a crime, that where a person is going is of no concern to a road-check, that a road-check has only the authority to check licences and registration, and that opening up a friendly conversation with an officer is not a crime.
   The defence will likely state that this was an unlawful search without just cause that violates the Charter of Rights and any evidence found as a result of that search will be inadmissible.
   The Defence and the Federal Crown Prosecutor asked the court for a continuance of this trial at a later date.
   The soft-speaking judge said that court will be in session again on May 10th and will assign a new date for trial continuance on that day.

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