October 16, 2012
BY: NICOLA MACLEOD
Ronald Lloyd Wilson was arrested when he failed his roadside Breathalyzer test. He was put in the back of the police cruiser and tried to use his cellphone to call his lawyer. Ron Morris was unavailable so he left a message with his wife. Wilson was taken to the police station where he tried to call Morris again. He got no response. He tried to call his second choice of council, but he was also unavailable. He hung up the phone and was lead away to take his second Breathalyzer test, which he also failed. He was never offered a phonebook or legal aid.
The New Brunswick Provincial Court will decide which is more important, a man’s civil rights or the public’s faith in the justice system.
“I’m suggesting a very valuable right was taken away from the defendant,” said Defense attorney Ron Morris in court Friday. Morris argued that Wilson should not have been forced to complete the second Breathalyzer test until he had spoken with a lawyer.
Morris cited the Supreme Court of Canada’s 1994 decision to exclude evidence from a trial when the defendant’s right to council was not properly offered.
Earlier in Wilson’s trial, the officer who made the arrest was called as a witness. Constable Gordon Dicks of the Fredericton Police Force admitted to the court that he forgot to read Wilson his right to council.
Both the Defense and the Crown agreed that this was a breach of Wilson’s civil rights as outlined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Canadian police officers are required to read the perpetrator their right to council during arrest. Officers have had it written on their arrest cards since 1994.
“I am willing to accept that Constable Dicks did not comply with that section of the Charter,” said Crown Prosecutor Chris Lavigne.
Lavigne argued that letting Wilson off would have a greater impact on society than the accidental breach of Wilson’s rights. Society also has rights, and in this case, society’s right would be to see the completion of this trial and the punishment of drunk drivers. Dropping the charges may cause public skepticism of the justice system.
“Ultimately, I will suggest that the police acted on good faith,” said Lavigne.
Constable Dicks allowed Wilson to call his lawyer from a cell phone while in the back of the police car, something that is not necessary and many police officers would disallow. Lavigne said Dicks was not acting maliciously or abusively.
Regardless of the civil rights infringement, there is still strong physical evidence from two Breathalyzers that Wilson was intoxicated. Lavigne told the court the breach does not affect the reliability of the evidence.
Morris argued that the charges against Wilson should be dropped.
“I don’t think it’s on the court or the Crown to clean up police work that was not done properly,” said Morris.
If Judge Julian Dickson sides with the Supreme Court of Canada, the evidence from the two Breathalyzers will be excluded and the charges against Wilson will be dropped due to lack of evidence.
If Judge Dickson sides with society’s right to punish offenders, Wilson would face a fine of over 1000 dollars and possible jail time.
The trial continues Thursday, October 18 when Judge Dickson reveals his decision on whether or not to omit the evidence.