Apr 4, 2015

Silence: A right yes; an innocent explanation, no

R. v. Brown, 2015 ONCA 220 (CanLII)

Albert Brown lived in an apartment. He was the only male living there. The police obtained a warrant to search the apartment for drugs and drug related items. They found both. In a pair of pants hanging on the bathroom door they found 17 one gram packets of cocaine as well as $1275; elsewhere they found a digital scale with cocaine residue on it and bulk marijuana. Brown was charged. He was convicted. He appealed: 2015 ONCA 220.

On appeal Brown argued (i) that the trial judge erred in not excluding the items recovered in the search under 24(2) and (ii) that the verdict was unreasonable.

With respect to the first ground, the Court of Appeal noted that Brown must establish that “the trial judge erred in principle, considered irrelevant facts, or made unreasonable findings” [@6]. Brown failed to do so, that ground was dismissed.

With respect to the reasonableness of the finding, Brown argued that it was unreasonable to conclude that the pants in the bathroom were his. The court rejected this ground.

The appellant places specific emphasis on the police officer’s opinion that the pants found in the bathroom containing the cocaine “could fit the appellant”. He argues that this is not sufficient to prove ownership of the pants, thus knowledge of and control over the cocaine in a pocket, beyond a reasonable doubt. However, the whole of the circumstantial evidence – including the fact that an investigating police officer said the pants belonged to a man and that the appellant was the only man living in the apartment – was sufficient to find the appellant in constructive possession of the cocaine. [@9].

Notably, the court commented on the fact that Brown had not testified in concluding that the verdict was reasonable:

We note that there was no explanation whatsoever for the presence of the cocaine in the appellant’s bathroom. He chose not to testify. This court, when considering the reasonableness of a verdict, is entitled to treat an appellant's silence as indicating that the appellant could not provide an innocent explanation of his or her conduct: see R. v. Dell, [2005] O.J. No. 863 (C.A.), at para. 35. [Emphasis added]; [@10].

This principle is certainly not new, but it seems that it bears repeating once and a while.