R. v. Stillman, [1997] 1 SCR 607

The 17-year-old accused, William Wayne Dale Stillman, was suspected of first degree murder. His alleged victim was found with semen in her vagina, a human bite mark on her body, and blows to her head which resulted in her death. After Mr. Stillman was taken into custody, his lawyers indicated that he was not willing to give a statement or consent to the taking of any hair samples or other bodily evidence.

After Mr. Stillman’s lawyers left, the police used the threat of physical force to obtain hair samples and a statement from him. They also retrieved a tissue from the garbage which had his mucous on it.

The trial judge found a breach of Mr. Stillman’s rights but did not believe that exclusion of evidence was warranted. A subsequent jury trial led to Stillman’s conviction, which was upheld by the Court of Appeal.

On final appeal, the Supreme Court of Canada overturned the lower courts’ findings with regard to Section 24(2) of the Charter, finding that the police conduct was sufficiently egregious to justify the exclusion of evidence:

Here, in considering how the admission of the evidence would affect the fairness of the trial, the trial judge erred in concluding that the hair samples, saliva  and dental impressions existed independently of any Charter breach and were thus admissible.  The accused’s bodily samples and impressions existed as “real” evidence but the police, by their words and actions, compelled the accused to provide evidence from his body.  This evidence constituted conscriptive evidence.  The impugned evidence would not have been discovered had it not been for the conscription of the accused in violation of his Charter rights and no independent source existed by which the police could have obtained the evidence.  It follows that its admission would render the trial unfair.  This finding is sufficient to resolve the s. 24(2) issue as the evidence must be excluded.

In regard to the mucous-covered tissue, however, the Supreme Court concluded that although the police acted surreptitiously and with disregard for the Stillman’s stated wishes, it was not so serious a breach as to shock the conscience of fair minded members of the community. The tissue was therefore admissible and a new trial on the remaining evidence was ordered.

Decided by the Supreme Court of Canada on March 20, 1997.
Click here for the full text of the decision.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Section 24: Enforcement of Rights, Section 8: Search & Seizure

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *