The concern with the presence of residual mouth alcohol is that it may artificially raise the alcohol level shown by the ASD and thus cause a “false fail.” [R. v. Au-Yeung, 2010 ONSC 2292 at para. 29]
This post is hardly ‘new’ case law. In fact, this issue has been discussed and argued for years. It is worthy refreshing ourselves on the law in this area from time to time though. R. v. Roblin 2017 ONCJ 702 discussed two issues that are worthy noting: mouth alcohol and legal articulation.
Section 254(2) of the Code permits an officer — during the investigative stage of an impaired driving inquiry, and upon developing a reasonable suspicion that a motorist has alcohol in his or her body — to require breath samples be provided into an ASD. Because the driver is being detained and denied his section 10 Charter rights, the officer is required to make the demand, and obtain a reliable sample, forthwith. The test’s purpose is to determine, with accuracy, the presence and amount of alcohol in a driver’s bloodstream, and to assist in determining whether a further criminal investigation is warranted (i.e. arrest for driving with excess blood alcohol) or permit the detainee to be swiftly on his or her way. This, of course, requires that the testing process be reliable, otherwise what is the point of the exercise. This reality imports some flexibility into the forthwith requirement, which is otherwise quite rigid — a brief delay is acceptable if it is reasonably necessary to allow for the testing process to be properly conducted (for example, R. v. Bernshaw  1 S.C.R. 254).
It is widely known that mouth alcohol may artificially raise an ASD test result. This is why police officers need to be alert for “credible evidence” of its presence during sobriety-related traffic stops. An officer is entitled to rely upon the accuracy of an ASD result absent such evidence. As a result, courts have historically permitted a brief delay at the roadside in circumstances where there is credible evidence of recent consumption in order to ensure that the alcohol has dissipated from the detainee’s mouth and is not an impediment to the ASD’s proper functioning.
In this case, the arresting officer, part of a broader deployment of police resources aimed at detecting potential impaired drivers, positioned his cruiser in a parking lot adjacent to a licensed establishment. His intention was to conduct random sobriety checks of motorists leaving the restaurant. He pulled a vehicle over after it was seen exiting the restaurant’s parking lot. The driver was alone in his vehicle. He had no difficulty pulling over at the police direction. Standard requests for documentation were made by the officer and during the interaction, the officer noted an “evident” odour of alcohol relatively quickly; he described it as being more apparent the longer they spoke. He asked how long the driver had been at the bar, and was told about an hour. He then asked if he had consumed alcohol, and received a response that he had drank one beer, five minutes previous. The officer was suspicious of this statement, as it did not accord with his understanding of how people act in bars or restaurants — people generally do not abstain in such locations, only to then consume alcohol in a short period of time before leaving, in the officer’s opinion.
On the basis of the driver’s answers, the officer formed a suspicion that the driver was operating a motor vehicle with alcohol in his body. The officer was in possession of an approved screening device and, after turning it on and conducting various tests, administered the device to the driver. A “fail” result was obtained eight minutes after the initial traffic stop. The officer testified that the device can provide three possible results — pass, alert, or fail — and that a fail indicates an amount in the test subject’s bloodstream in excess of 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood. On the basis of the fail result, an arrest occurred and a s. 254(3) breath demand was made.
In cross-examination, however, the officer agreed that it was possible that the driver had consumed alcohol five minutes before the traffic stop. His principal difficulty with the driver’s utterance was not the timing of consumption, but the quantity. He believed the driver would have drank more but, critically for present purposes, he agreed on multiple occasions that the driver could have recently drank alcohol, as stated, five minutes before the traffic stop. While this would mean that he was administering a test thirteen minutes after the subject had potentially consumed alcohol, and was aware that mouth alcohol could generate a false fail, the officer indicated that he was nonetheless confident that the obtained sample was reliable. He indicated that, in his mind, a fifteen minute delay is a recommendation only, a “soft decision”, not a “necessity or a hard and fast rule”.
The court ruled that a reasonable officer would have been aware of the notorious effect of mouth alcohol on ASD test results, and would have known that it was necessary to wait fifteen to twenty minutes after consumption to ensure a reliable sample, one that could either further a criminal investigation or permit a detainee to be swiftly on his way, as envisioned by the section 254(2) Code provision was obtained. While the officer honestly believed he had grounds based on the “fail”, in the circumstances that belief was unreasonable, said the judge. The breath samples obtained at the police station were unreasonably seized and a section 8 Charter violation was established.
A related s. 8 Charter issue arose during the course of the application, with regard to subjective grounds. Upon receiving the “fail” result from the ASD, the officer testified that his “suspicion had been confirmed that the driver was operating a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol”; i.e. 253(1)(a), not 253(1)(b). The officer further testified, when asked about what information he provided to the breath technician back at the police station, that he explained his “suspicions”. The position of the Crown was that the officer misspoke when he used the term “suspicion”, misspoke again when he identified the impaired driving s. 253(1)(a) offence, and that the surrounding circumstantial evidence should satisfy the court that he subjectively believed that the driver was operating a motor vehicle with excess blood alcohol, contrary to s. 253(1)(b) of the Code.
Luckily, the judge ruled that “a court [can] infer from circumstantial evidence the officer had the requisite belief without having said the “magic words”. In the end, the judge accepted the crown’s submission that the officer’s testimony that his suspicion was “confirmed” meant that he had escalated his suspicion to something more concrete, like a belief. In the circumstances, the judge was satisfied, on a balance of probabilities, that the officer honestly believed that he had evidence capable of justifying an arrest for driving with excess blood alcohol, his choice of language notwithstanding. Of course, for the reasons already indicated, that belief was unreasonable given the clear and present danger mouth alcohol posed to the ASD test procedure. The breath samples were excluded from evidence.