Change comes as impaired driving charge stayed due to mistakes

The city’s deputy police chief says he’s disappointed an impaired driving case against a truck driver was turfed from court after key evidence apparently got lost in the shuffle.

But Murray Stooke said Thursday a new computer platform that will allow police and prosecutors across Alberta to better share evidence should mean fewer criminal files fall through the cracks.

Charges against Jetandar Pal Dhillon were stayed last week, nearly two years after he was arrested for allegedly driving his semi-trailer with twice the legal limit of alcohol in his bloodstream.

As the local court case dragged on, Dhillon was hired for a cross-country run, but got drunk and crashed his tractor trailer into a parked fire truck on a busy Ontario highway.

While an error by a local prosecutor was one of the reasons it took over 21 months for the charges to reach trial, a seven-month adjournment occurred after the written statement of a key witness was not disclosed in advance to the defence as the law requires.

“It’s a shame,” said Stooke, who heads the bureau of specialized investigations with the Calgary Police Service.

“We had a perfectly prosecutable case that should be before the courts.”

Several days after Dhillon’s arrest in January 2011, Tammy MacPherson recounted in writing how she had to brake to avoid being hit by a tractor trailer that had run a red light, Stokes said.

While the statement was put on the police file, it apparently never made it to the one that prosecutor Brian Hadford reviewed and took to the trial this past May.

“He didn’t discover there was a statement that should have been disclosed until the witness told him during her testimony,” said Crown prosecutor Jonathan Hak, who heads the city’s criminal driving unit.

Stooke said a multi-millon computer update the province is funding will help eliminate future human errors.

“Information keeps coming in long after an arrest and our systems aren’t sophisticated enough to ensure there’s an automatic notification to the Crown attorney,” he said.

“The update will allow a seamless electronic handoff and constant updating of each file so disclosure is done in a timely way.”

In the legislature, the Wildrose opposition questioned Justice Minister Jonathan Denis on Thursday about the Dhillon case. The Wildrose says it’s the latest example of how Alberta overburdened courts and overworked prosecutors are allowing alleged criminals to avoid punishment.

“Why not invest the resources to unclog our courts, empower our Crown prosecutors and get these menaces to society off Alberta streets?” Airdrie MLA Rob Anderson asked.

Denis said the province is appointing more judges and considering hiring more prosecutors to speed trials, despite the fact he believes this case was stayed because of mistakes by the Crown.

“I am in no way throwing the prosecutor under the bus — he has a very strong history with our department — but ... this is also under review for appeal and I hazard to comment because I want the Crown to have its own independent look at this.”

Hak said his team would review how the case could have been better handled, but he said an appeal of a stay is not legally possible.

“We can recommence a stayed prosecution up to a year later, but only under extraordinary circumstances,” Hak said.

“This case is over.”

In the Ontario incident this past July, two firefighters escaped with minor injuries after Dhillon slammed his truck into the rear of a water tanker that had been positioned on Highway 401 east of Toronto to protect emergency personnel responding to the scene of a prior accident.

Dhillon pleaded guilty to impaired driving and was handed a four-week stint in jail and a two-year prohibition on driving.

Source: The Calgary Herald

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Last updated on: 2012-12-10 | Link to this post