Supreme Court ruling paves way for speedier drugged-driving trials
OTTAWA — Expert testimony can be admitted in drugged-driving trials without a preliminary examination of the evidence, the Supreme Court said Thursday in a decision that could help expedite the judicial process in the legalized-marijuana era.
The 5-2 court decision on the case of an Ottawa motorist comes as the federal Liberal government prepares to introduce long-promised legislation to legalize the recreational use of pot — a plan that has vast implications for policing the roads.
“Driving while impaired by drugs is a dangerous and, sadly, common activity, prohibited by the Criminal Code,” Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin wrote in her reasons for the majority decision.
“Parliament long ago established a regime to enforce the law against alcohol-impaired driving, with breathalyzer testing and analyst certification at its centre. Enforcing the offence of drug-impaired driving was more elusive.”
In May 2009, Carson Bingley cut off a driver, crossed the centre line and drove into the opposite lane, nearly striking oncoming traffic before bumping into a car in a nearby parking lot. He failed sobriety tests administered by a drug recognition expert and admitted to smoking marijuana.
Bingley was acquitted of driving while drug-impaired despite the expert’s evidence, which the judge found could be admitted without a voir dire, or preliminary examination of the evidence.
An appeal led to a second trial, where a judge found that the evidence must be vetted in a voir dire.
The subsequent preliminary examination led the judge to rule the expert evidence inadmissible, resulting in a second acquittal.
The Crown successfully appealed and a third trial was ordered; Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling means that trial will go ahead.