R. v. Aucoin, 2012 SCC 66

The Appellant had been detained for two Motor Vehicle Act offences, namely using a license plate that was not registered to his vehicle and exceeding the legal blood alcohol limit. While detained, Aucoin was subject to a search which resulted in the finding of ecstasy and cocaine. He was convicted of possession of a controlled substance for the purpose of trafficking.

On appeal, the majority of the Supreme Court of Canada found that the search itself was not necessary, and was therefore a violation of Mr. Aucoin’s rights under Section 8 of the Charter. However, considering all of the factors, including the legality of the initial detention, Mr. Aucoin’s consent to the search, and the police officer’s lack of bad faith, the Court ruled that admitting the evidence would not bring the administration of justice into disrepute:

[49] In the end, having regard to the trial judge’s findings of fact, I am satisfied that Constable Burke was acting in good faith. His error was in not appreciating that the pat-down search would only be reasonable in the circumstances if it could be shown that it was reasonably necessary — in the sense that there were no other reasonable means available — to secure the appellant in the rear of the cruiser to address his concern that the appellant might walk away. But there was no intention on his part to misuse his powers; nor did he choose to ignore the appellant’s Charter rights. These factors serve to attenuate the seriousness of the breach.

This was a ‘close call’ decision, with the clear presence of a Charter breach and two Justices (LeBel and Fish) dissenting on the exclusion of evidence issue. As the majority acknowledged at paragraph 48 of its decision, if the circumstances had been even slightly different, this case might well have gone the other way.

Decided by the Supreme Court of Canada on November 30, 2012.
Click here for the full text of the decision.

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

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