A provincial court judge acquitted a man of multiple criminal charges Wednesday after ruling that police had breached his Charter right to legal counsel.
Daniel Oetheimer was charged after a high-speed police chase on Columbia Street and brief pursuit on foot shortly after midnight on July 2, 2010.
Oetheimer was with a friend at the time of his apprehension. That man later testified it was he, not Oetheimer, who was driving the vehicle that night.
“It’s clear to me that the identification of the driver is the central issue of this trial if not the only issue,” Donegan said before reading a lengthy decision in what she described as a “rather complex” case.
Only Oetheimer was charged, but the initial charges were incomplete, so several different officers had to re-read the various charges and re-arrest him several times in the hours after he was taken into custody.
Provincial Crown argued that recordings police made of their interview with Oetheimer ought to be entered as evidence. Donegan rejected that argument, citing Section 10B of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The section guarantees accused individuals timely access to legal counsel of their choice before police conduct interviews.
Testimony given during the proceedings revealed that the accused left 100 Mile House with two friends that day. A third person, a woman, left the pair after an argument and threw down the keys to her vehicle. Later that evening, after police attending to another matter heard the passing vehicle’s tires screech, they gave chase.
When Oetheimer was first apprehended, an officer read him two charges — flight from a peace officer and vehicle theft — and advised him of his rights. Overnight, an additional charge of driving while prohibited was added, though Oetheimer said he did not understand that charge. He was able to speak briefly with a duty counsel lawyer, yet was unsatisfied with the advice given: “I spoke to an idiot,” he told the officer.
After an RCMP shift change, another officer took over. That officer was aware she had to arrest Oetheimer again after reading further charges, but was unable to follow through until later that day. While fingerprinting the accused, she engaged in a “rapport-building” conversation with him and he revealed inculpatory evidence about his driving record. The officer acknowledged in court that she went too far with her questions at that point.
Five charges, including impaired driving and dangerous operation of a motor vehicle, were eventually laid.
“It is clear that no particular officer took charge of the matter,” Donegan said. It was also clear that the accused was not given a second chance to seek counsel, she noted.
Police are obliged to hold off from eliciting evidence that is admissible until after the right to consult counsel is fulfilled, she concluded.
Donegan said the court had to dissociate itself from improper police conduct or run the risk of suggesting “that individual rights count for little.”