Drunk driving law

The RCMP should be involved in a hearing on a challenge to a new drunk driving law, a judge ruled on Tuesday.

The RCMP should be involved in a hearing on a challenge to a new drunk driving law, a judge ruled on Tuesday.

Provincial court Judge Bart Rosborough said the Alberta RCMP should have a lawyer present to ask questions if necessary at the hearing.

The case is being argued on constitutional grounds.

Chief Crown prosecutor Anders Quist and defence lawyer Kevin Sproule were prepared to argue Sproule’s application to obtain technical data stored in breathalyzer machines.

However, the court agreed with the lawyers that the RCMP should be represented, should they have questions of Crown and defence experts who were prepared to testify on Tuesday.

Both sides came prepared to argue their position based on two precedent-setting cases involving disclosure of information.

However, Sproule agreed recently to forgo his argument, instead adopting the Crown’s precedent case position.

Sproule represents 18 clients who have been charged separately with various driving offences involving alcohol and being tested by breathalyzer machines.

Sproule contends he needs the breathalyzer data to further his challenge by having an expert test the breathalyzer’s internal workings.

Depending on the outcome at the provincial court level, either the Crown or the defence could appeal to the Alberta Court of Appeal.

In addition, depending on that outcome, the losing side is expected to ask to have the Supreme Court of Canada make a ruling.

Sproule challenged the law this spring. The legislation, passed in July 2008, limits technical defences in drunk driving cases. It places the onus on the defence to prove that breathalyzer machines were not working properly when the blood-alcohol readings were taken.

Previously, the defence could call experts on blood-alcohol absorption rates and its expulsion from the body to theorize readings may not have been as high as recorded. The expert would then give his opinion but it was up to the judge to weigh the facts.

Quist told court the “Crown is anxious to get the matter on.”

He said the hope is that by trying one of Sproule’s clients, one decision would settle it for all the accused parties.

The judge said he was concerned about a delay because at least one case is more than two years old. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees an accused to a trial in a reasonable time.

Outside court, Sproule said the process is slow because of the many necessary procedures.

He said other Canadian lawyers are pursuing similar cases.

Theoretically, he said the first case that makes it to the Supreme Court will put the other challenges on hold.

A meeting has been scheduled for Sept. 22 and the case returns to court on Oct. 6.

jwilson@bprda.wpengine.com

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