The issues surrounding overholding are not new or novel in impaired driving investigations. A recent case out of the Ontario Court of Justice, R. v. Lorenzo 2016 ONCJ 634, examined this issue. Ms. Lorenzo was stopped for a sobriety check as the arresting officer had earlier decided to do so of patrons leaving a certain drinking establishment. While speaking to Lorenzo, the officer noticed an odour of alcoholic beverage on her breath, red and watery eyes, and she admitted to consuming alcohol a few hours prior. He formed the suspicion that, while operating a motor vehicle, she had alcohol in her body so he asked her to step out for a test. She failed the test and then she was arrested and given a s. 254(3) demand for breath sample. The investigation proceeded in the normal fashion, resulting in readings of 145 mg. of alcohol in 100 ml. of blood and 135 mg. of alcohol in 100 ml. of blood. Lorenzo was then held in cells until some 6 hours later “until sober”.
Section 498 of the Code places a duty to release upon the officer-in-charge (or another peace officer e.g. arresting officer) where a person has been arrested and detained without a warrant; the person “shall”, “as soon as practicable” be released by an officer in charge (or other peace officer) with an exception where an officer has an appropriate belief, based on “reasonable grounds”, for not doing so (i.e. public interest considerations).
Several courts have cited that permitting the blood alcohol level to be the sole determinant results in too narrow a focus when deciding whether or not to hold an arrestee. For example, in R. v. Price 2010 ONSC 1898, the court said the officer-in-charge must have consideration to all of the circumstances. A non-exhaustive list of those considerations would include: the accused’s blood alcohol level, whether the accused was charged with impaired operation, his or her level of comprehension, that the accused is prohibited by statute from driving a motor vehicle (the administrative license suspension), that the accused’s vehicle would have been impounded, whether there was a responsible person available to pick up the accused although the officer-in-charge has no authority to bind the responsible person as a surety would be bound, whether the accused had a criminal record and if so, its contents, whether the accused had outstanding charges, his or her attitude and that by drinking and driving the accused has recently exhibited poor judgment. According to cases such as Price, it is only after an objective analysis of these factors and any other deemed relevant, that the officer-in-charge can make an informed decision on release. Being guided only by the blood alcohol level results in too narrow a focus (see also cases such as R. v. Cheema,  O.J. No. 1787, R. v. Mazzuchin,  O.J. No. 371, and others).
The court in Lorenzo found there was no lawful reason for Ms. Lorenzo’s detention once the investigation was complete and she was served with the appropriate paperwork. Instead of being released, she was held in cells for six plus hours and there were no circumstances that arose that interfered with the police being able to execute her release, nor with Lorenzo’s ability to get home in a cab in the manner she ultimately did, said the court. The officers-in-charge (in this case, more than one was involved) did not take necessary steps to see if there was a real possibility of releasing her to someone as soon as practicable, for example. Lorenzo was acquitted.