Police didn't need a warrant to find drugs in laptop bag | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Police didn't need a warrant to find drugs in laptop bag

The B.C. Court of Appeal has denied Dennis James Russell an overturn on convictions of drug charges made after a traffic stop in Summerland in 2015.
August 29, 2018 - 7:30 AM

PENTICTON - Police didn’t need a search warrant when they accidentally found a load of drugs among the personal effects of a man arrested near Summerland, the B.C. Court of Appeal has decided.

Dennis James Russell was stopped for a broken tail light on Aug. 5, 2015 and was arrested for separate offences.

He was placed in custody and processed for his original charges but when police had his vehicles towed and secured his other possessions for safe-keeping, they found heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, GHB and ketamine in a laptop bag.

Russell was convicted of two counts of possessing a controlled substance for trafficking. He appealed the conviction saying police illegally searched his bag without a warrant.

But Justice Daphne Smith said that’s not how it works. Police have a responsibility to look after the effects of people in custody and simply found the drugs while undertaking that responsibility.

In a decision handed down Aug. 24, she said police retrieved a wallet and laptop bag from the vehicle and when they booked the items in, they found the drugs.

Russell contended at trial and appeal the officer’s search was warrantless and violated his Charter rights. He contended the trial judge erred in not excluding the evidence.

But Smith could find no error in the original judges’ ruling, concurring Russell’s charter rights were not violated.

She said RCMP policy to safeguard a prisoner’s effects is in everyone’s interest. The arresting officer believed the wallet and laptop bag were valuable to Russell, who was the lone occupant of the vehicle.

No other search of the vehicle was made, and the officer testified in 14 years of police service he had never found drugs inside a laptop bag, so he did not originally suspect the bag might contain drugs.

Russell said he told the officer he wanted the items left in the vehicle “because I trust the towing company before I’ll trust the police,” but the officer denied hearing that statement.

Smith ruled police had a duty of responsibility that included safeguarding the vehicle’s contents after taking Russell into custody and towing his vehicle.

“Once the police assume control and possession of the vehicle they had a duty to take steps to safeguard the vehicle and its contents,” she wrote, adding, “by documenting the contents of the vehicle that had any apparent value, the police serve the interests of any person who has an interest in the property and who looks to the police to safeguard that property while it is in police custody. It is quite wrong to suggest that the only interest is the police interest in avoiding civil liability.”

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