Are you an officer that is in a category of Prosper warning ignorance?

In R. v. Sivalingam 2018 ONCJ 510, he was stopped by Peel Regional Police for speeding in the early morning hours.  Sivalingam was arrested for driving over 80 after failing an approved screening device (ASD) test. He was taken to the station where Intoxilyzer tests revealed that his blood alcohol content was over 80.

At his trial, he applied to exclude his breath test results under s. 24(2) of the Charter, on the grounds that his right to counsel under s. 10(b) of the Charter had been violated. He argued that when attempts to reach his lawyer were unsuccessful, the officer ought to have made it clear that he could have contacted another lawyer, or spoken to duty counsel, before taking the Intoxilyzer tests.

When the officer informed Sivalingam at the roadside of his right to counsel, Sivalingam said he did not wish to speak with a lawyer. The officer told Sivalingam to tell him at any point if he wanted to speak with counsel. Once they arrived at the police station, the officer asked Sivalingam again if he wanted to speak to a lawyer. This time, Sivalingam said that he wanted to call a specific lawyer. First, the officer called the lawyer’s cell phone number at 1:42 a.m. Because there was no answer, he left a voicemail. The officer then called the lawyer’s office number at 1:44 a.m. Finally, the officer called a 24-hour emergency contact number, where he again left a voicemail after receiving no answer. The officer believed that he made the foregoing calls while Sivalingam was going through the booking process. He said he made the calls on speaker phone while at the booking desk. In cross-examination, the officer acknowledged that he could not be sure that Sivalingam saw him making these calls, but that he would have told him he was getting no answer.

Just before entering the breath room, the officer made a final call to the lawyer’s cell phone number. Again there was no answer. The officer entered the breath room at 1:54 a.m. with Sivalingam entering shortly thereafter. The officer confirmed that he had called the lawyer of choice three times. He also explained that “if and when [the lawyer] does call, we’ll stop what we’re doing and get you on the phone with him okay.” The officer proceeded to read the primary and secondary cautions, which Sivalingam said that he understood.  The officer then read the Intoxilyzer demand to Sivalingam again. After reading the demand, the officer explained to Sivalingam that, if he refused, he could be charged with refusal, and it carried the same consequences as being over the limit. The officer then explained to Sivalingam why there was no downside to him providing breath samples.

The officer explained the breath testing procedure to Sivalingam. Just before administering the first test, at 2:03 a.m., the officer called the lawyer again. After leaving a message, the officer told Sivalingam that if the lawyer called back before the first test, he would stop and allow Sivalingam to speak to him. The officer did not give Sivalingam the option of calling another lawyer, or speaking with duty counsel. During his testimony, the officer explained that they had already been waiting for some time and he had just made the third call, and he said that he normally had luck with 24-hour numbers and he did not have any luck this time. The officer acknowledged that he was not concerned about the two-hour limit within which to perform the first breath test.

The judge ruled that the officer breached Sivalingam’s s. 10(b) Charter rights by not holding off performing the Intoxilyzer tests before Sivalingam had a reasonable opportunity to consult counsel. After the officer was unable to reach the lawyer of choice at 2:03 a.m., he should have given Sivalingam the option of calling another lawyer or duty counsel. The judge said by the officer’s own admission, there was no urgency in conducting the tests. Sivalingam never waived his right to counsel. The officer effectively waived it for him.

The judge went on to say that where circumstances warrant — as they did here — the police should remind a detainee of the availability of duty counsel, or the option of calling a lawyer, where repeated attempts to contact counsel of choice fail, and where the detainee is not insistent on speaking only with a specific lawyer. Especially, said the judge, if the police are in complete control of a detainee’s access to the phone and to the ability to even look up another lawyer’s number. The police should not leave the impression that, if counsel of choice is unavailable, there are no other options. That is what happened here.

The judge said that where a detained person’s initial counsel of choice is unavailable, the police should not simply carry on as if the detainee has exercised his or her right to counsel. In the absence of an explicit waiver, the police must continue to hold off eliciting evidence until the person has exercised the s.10(b) right earlier invoked. Common sense would suggest that the next logical step would be to point out to the detainee that counsel has not called back, and ask detainee whether he or she wishes to try another lawyer or duty counsel. If after being given the option, the detainee insists on speaking with only one specific lawyer, the law does not require the police to wait indefinitely for that lawyer to call back before starting the breath testing process. In this case, the officer may have been diligent in his attempts to get hold of the lawyer of choice; however, he was not diligent in assisting Sivalingam to exercise his right to counsel generally.

As a side note, the judge also found it troubling that the officer had no idea what a Prosper warning is and when it is required. Although the judge found that a Prosper warning was not required here, the judge agreed with defense counsel that it demonstrated an ignorance of Charter requirements. In the judge’s view, this ignorance of Charter standards provided important context to the breach that did occur, and made the breach more serious. Sivalingam should have been given an opportunity to speak with a lawyer before he performed the Intoxilyzer tests. Because he was not given that reasonable opportunity, his s. 10(b) Charter right was infringed. In the circumstances, the Intoxilyzer test results were excluded under s. 24(2) of the Charter.

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Filed under Impaired Driving, Recent Case Law, Section 10 Charter

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