Accused acquitted after judge rules search that found 78 kilos illegal

An accused drug trafficker walked free from a Red Deer court on Tuesday after a judge ruled police searched his pickup illegally.

Red Deer Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Wayne Renke said police had crossed the line and violated Michael Jackson’s constitutional right to privacy by searching his truck without a warrant on Nov. 24, 2013.

Jackson’s truck had been sitting in a secured bay at the Rocky Mountain House RCMP detachment. It was taken there after Jackson hit a pedestrian, who later died, on Hwy 11 during the evening of Nov. 22.

The Rocky Mountain House man was not charged in relation to the fatal accident. However, his truck was seized by police to be examined by a collision analyst as part of the fatality investigation.

Two Rocky Mountain House RCMP officers testified in court on Monday that they had been trying to track the source of a faint marijuana smell in the vehicle bay when they turned their attention to the truck, possibly to find a small amount of marijuana. That led to one of the garbage bags being opened.

That search uncovered marijuana buds carefully doubled-wrapped in garbage bags and vacuum-sealed in plastic. Realizing what they had unexpectedly uncovered, police later got a search warrant and eight double-wrapped bags containing nearly 78 kilograms of marijuana buds were uncovered.

Jackson was charged with possession of marijuana for the purpose of trafficking.

Justice Renke said while the officers may have had no idea they would stumble upon a major drug shipment they should have known better to start searching the vehicle without authorization.

“They had time to think about what they were doing,” he said.

Police officers must be held to a higher standard when people’s constitutional rights are involved and the search amounted to a “serious error.”

Renke excluded the evidence from the search, which left the Crown prosecutor with no case and Jackson was acquitted.

Whether the judge’s decision is appealed will be up to the Crown prosecutor’s office in Edmonton, which has 30 days to make its decision.

Jackson had no comment outside court.