Supreme Court upholds procedures for breathalyzer evidence

Crown can rely on a simple certificate recording the breath readings of the accused

The Supreme Court of Canada is upholding procedures that permit shortcuts for allowing a motorist’s breathalyzer test results into evidence – even in cases where demanding the breath sample may have been unlawful.

In a 5-4 ruling Thursday dismissing the appeal of a British Columbia driver, the court affirmed the existing charter process for challenging a police officer’s decision to order a breath sample.

It means technicians and toxicologists can’t be forced to testify in court about the accuracy and relevance of breath tests when the argument is really about whether police had reasonable grounds to demand testing in the first place.

Instead, the Crown can rely on a simple certificate recording the breath readings of the accused.

Ruling otherwise would require additional witnesses to attend court to give evidence on matters that have no connection to the lawfulness of the breath demand, and only add to the costs and delays in an already overburdened criminal justice system, Justice Michael Moldaver wrote on behalf of the majority.

“No one gains under this approach, but society as a whole loses out as precious court time and resources are squandered,” he said in the court’s reasons.

“The evidentiary shortcuts were designed by Parliament to simplify and streamline drinking and driving proceedings.”

The Supreme Court upheld the impaired-driving conviction of Dion Henry Alex, who was stopped by police in Penticton, B.C., in April 2012.

An RCMP officer detected the scent of liquor and saw an open can of beer on the floor beside a passenger in Alex’s van. Alex failed a roadside test and was taken to the police detachment, where he blew above the legal blood alcohol limit in two subsequent tests.

At issue was the continuing relevance of a 1976 Supreme Court decision that said the Crown did not need to prove the demand for a breath test was lawful in order to rely on evidentiary shortcuts about the accuracy of test readings.

The introduction of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the 1980s added a new wrinkle, meaning that an accused person who argues a breath sample was obtained unlawfully can now initiate a charter challenge alleging unreasonable search and seizure.

In the decision Thursday, Moldaver said the charter “provides an effective recourse for challenging the lawfulness of breath demands” as well as a meaningful remedy – possible exclusion of the test results from evidence.

Rather than make a charter challenge, Alex argued during his trial that the absence of grounds for requiring a sample meant the Crown could not use the evidentiary shortcut of a certificate.

The trial judge agreed that police lacked reasonable grounds to demand a breath sample, but cited the 1976 decision in ruling the Crown could file a certificate as evidence of Alex’s blood-alcohol concentration.

Alex unsuccessfully appealed in the British Columbia courts, then took his case to the Supreme Court.

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Former U.S. Olympian urges audience at TWU to stay true to themselves

‘I made the decision to lie,’ says Marion Jones

Rainfall warning issued across Lower Mainland into the weekend

50 to 70 mm of rain expected to fall starting overnight Friday and into Sunday morning

Husband pleads guilty in relation to 2009 killing of Kulwinder Gill

Abbotsford woman died in hit-and-run conspiracy

Crash closes 264 Street in both directions

Crash closes 264 Street during afternoon commute on Thursday

‘Hearties’ descend on Langley

Fans of TV show ‘When Calls the Heart’ have gathered in Langley for the Hearties Family Reunion

VIDEO: ‘Lyle the singing pig’ searching for home

SPCA say the pig is ‘not opera-ready’

Man in custody linked police search near Salmon Arm

Police have not connected arrest to search at Salmon River Road property

‘Hearties’ descend on Langley

Fans of TV show ‘When Calls the Heart’ have gathered in Langley for the Hearties Family Reunion

B.C. search groups mobilize for missing mushroom picker

Searchers from across the province look for Frances Brown who has been missing since Oct. 14.

Search for missing B.C. man a race against winter weather

David Jeff of Williams Lake was last seen in Kamloops during the chaotic wildfire evacuations

Man steals police car, goes for a ‘slow’ ride

Mission RCMP say the motive of the theft is unknown

Dodgers punch ticket to World Series

This will be the first time the Los Angles Dodgers have made it to the World Series since 1988.

Surf group winning the war on plastic bags

The Tofino Co-op will no longer provide plastic bags, following in the footsteps of the Ucluelet location that already made the change earlier this year.

All three victims identified in Fernie arena ammonia leak

Wayne Hornquist and Lloyd Smith were from Fernie and Jason Podloski from Turner Valley, Alta

Most Read