May 04, 2015 - IMPAIRED DRIVING TRIAL HEARS ARGUMENTS ON WHETHER POLICE VIOLATED PRIVACY RIGHTS


A Quebec Court judge is expected to issue a ruling on May 22 that could set an important precedent for the gathering of evidence by police in a hospital setting.

Justice Thierry Nadon will need to consider various arguments and numerous similar — but not identical — cases before rendering his decision about the admissibility of physical evidence in the case of Stacey Snider.

Snider was allegedly drunk behind the wheel when she crashed into a city bus in August 2012, an accident which killed her mother, Janet Snider, as well as the driver of the bus, Sylvain Ferland.

Snider’s impaired driving trial began last month, but hit a snag when her defence team asked the judge to throw out much of the physical evidence gathered by police — including blood test results that revealed the accused was well over the legal limit when she got into her car.

Defence lawyer Pierre Joyal has argued that hospital staff unintentionally tipped off police about Snider’s inebriation as they were trying to save her life, and that the police violated her rights by then using that information to request a warrant for her test results.

Joyal and Crown prosecutor Lucie Martineau pleaded their cases on Monday as the trial resumed, with Joyal arguing that a hospital emergency room is a space where citizens have a certain expectation of privacy, and that police had no reason or right to be standing so close to Snider’s medical team when they overheard privileged information. Even if they did overhear it, he said, it should never have been used to start gathering evidence against his client.

“The expression is ‘what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.’ Well, what happens in the emergency room stays in the emergency room,” Joyal noted in his relatively brief address to the court.

“Nothing justified (police officers) being there.”

But Martineau, whose arguments lasted much longer, said a hospital is like any other public space, with people coming and going all the time. The expectation of privacy when it comes to transmission of medical information may be high, she said, but the overall expectation of privacy for the entire space is low.

“Where is it written that police are forbidden to be there?” she asked, adding that the close proximity to the doctors and nurses was perhaps unprofessional, but it wasn’t illegal. Police also had a duty to transmit information to the coroner if Snider had died of her injuries that day, Martineau said, so they had a right to be present for that reason. Police did not solicit the private information they received (one nurse apparently told an investigator that there was alcohol in Snider’s system, and a clerk was overheard by another officer telling a colleague that Snider had been drunk), and were therefore within their rights to act upon that information.

Snider, who was in the courtroom on Monday, sat quietly listening to the arguments. Since the Crown is treating the case as a summary conviction, the maximum sentence for Snider is she is found guilty of impaired driving would be 18 months. She is not facing charges in connection with the deaths.

Justice Nadon is expected to render his decision on the admissibility of the physical evidence on the afternoon of May 22. If he rules that it is inadmissible, it could mean an abrupt acquittal as the Crown’s case is largely built around that evidence. If Nadon rules in the Crown’s favour, then the trial may continue with additional witnesses.

Source: Montreal Gazette


 

Last updated on: 2015-05-08 | Link to this post