Court rules cops’ warrant unlawful in drug bust

| 05/09/2014

(CNS): Despite promises by the RCIPS management to tighten up search warrant procedures and other technical issues during the process of investigations another search warrant has been declared unlawful by the courts. However, an application by the suspects attorney’s to have the entire case thrown out as a result of what the defense believe was such a catalogue of errors and procedurals problems by police and prosecutors the case will still go to trial. Although a magistrate found some significant issues with the case she declined to stay it as she said the trial process was equipped to deal with the bulk of the complaints filed by the lawyers.

Andre Woodman is charged with possession of cocaine with intent to supply after drugs and related paraphernalia were allegedly seized from his home during a search, conducted under a warrant obtained from a justice of the peace using the criminal procedure code last November.

The officer should have undertaken the search under the misuse of drugs law as the warrant related to what the cops believed would be a drug bust.

Having obtained the wrong warrant, the police proceeded to execute it before daylight in breach of the conditions. Far more than a technical slip as claimed by the crown the magistrate found the warrant was unlawful. Magistrate Philippa McFarlane-Ebanks pointed out that the police could easily have complied with the law by using the misuse of drugs act. Despite declaring the warrant unlawful however, she did not stay the case saying all of the issues could be dealt with before a trail judge.

The defence lawyers in the case also complained in their application to have it thrown out of woeful inadequacies relating to the disclosure of critical information.

The magistrate agreed that there had been serious failures on the prosecutions part to disclose information that should have been given to the defence. She went as far as saying the police appeared to have hampered the crown in their own case given the failure to hand over the necessary material to the prosecuting attorney.

Against a background of continuous arguments between defence and prosecutors in general about the abuse of the disclosure process the magistrate urged the public prosecutor to set a policy of writing to defence attorneys regarding disclosure requests.

“Crown counsel should in my view get into the habit of advising the defence in writing about the status of requests,” she said, adding that it should be clear to the lawyers whether or not the material will be disclosed and if not why not. She pointed out that the crown should be clear that it has given proper consideration to requests and are “continuing to properly discharge their duty to provide material which is subject to common law disclosure…”

Despite what she described as the frank admissions by the crown about the failure to disclose material which ought to have been handed over, the magistrate said that there was still time and did not see the failures as prejudicial to the trial. The court also found that Greg Walcolm, the crown counsel who now has conduct of the case, was making every effort to address the complaints.

Along with the disclosure and warrant problems that relate to this investigation, the lead officer in the case, DC Winston Harrison, also has a pending contempt of court allegation against him after he failed to turn up to a trial hearing date in this case in July. That issue was adjourned to be heard in November when the case comes back before the court in connection with the disclosure problems ahead of the trial.

Woodman, who had been remanded in custody since his arrest, was eventually granted bail in July after five failed applications not least because of the disclosure issues preventing the defence from making its proper case.

Faced with what he believes is a catalogue of errors associated with this case and which he believes have caused serious prejudice to his client, the instructing attorney, Peter Polack has also filed a formal complaint with the Attorney General.

Polack told CNS that he had still not received any response from the government’s top lawyer to his letter sent back in July. “This is unsurprising as courtesy, but not salary, is in such short supply from the leaders of some government departments,” he added.

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Category: Crime

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