COPS CANNOT FISH FOR EVIDENCE
OTTAWA (CP) -- Police with reasonable suspicions have the power to
detain people temporarily but can't go on "fishing expeditions" in
their pockets for evidence, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled Friday.
It was the first time the high court had examined an everyday police
practice that many law officers and prosecutors take for granted.
The decision upholds a ruling by a trial judge in Winnipeg, who
acquitted Phillip Henry Mann of trafficking after police stopped him
on the street in relation to a nearby break-and-enter and found almost
an ounce of pot in his sweatshirt pouch.
"Individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their
pockets," Justice Frank Iacobucci wrote in a majority decision that
divided the high court 5-2.
"The search here went beyond what was required to mitigate concerns
about officer safety and reflects a serious breach of (Mann's)
protection against unreasonable search and seizure."
The court agreed, however, that police can briefly detain a person for
investigative purposes, provided they have reasonable grounds to
suspect the person is connected to a particular crime.
Police can also do a pat-down search if they reasonably believe the
person presents a safety risk.
But reaching into someone's pocket because they feel something soft,
as happened in the Mann case, doesn't cut it, said the court.
"The search must be grounded in objectively discernible facts to
prevent 'fishing expeditions' on the basis of irrelevant or
discriminatory factors," wrote Iacobucci.
Mann, a native, was walking in a high-crime area of downtown Winnipeg
near midnight on Dec. 23, 2000, when police approached him after
reports of a break-in a few blocks away.
He was acquitted at his initial trial, but that judgment was
overturned on appeal.
The Supreme Court decision puts an end to the matter.
Source: Canadian Press (Canada Wire)
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