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Trafficking / Possession for the Purpose of Trafficking

The Charge

A person can be charged under the Cannabis Act for trafficking or possessing cannabis for the purpose of trafficking unless it is in accordance with the regulations set out in that Act. The penalties for trafficking cannabis illegally remain severe: if the Crown proceeds by indictment, the maximum sentence is up to 14 years in jail; should Crown proceed summarily, the maximum sentence is 6 months in jail.

With respect to other controlled drugs, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act sets out that different potential penalties depend on the type and amount of drug involved. Controlled drugs and substances are grouped into “schedules” by the CDSA. Drugs are divided into groups according to their chemical composition. Some of the typical drugs are:

Schedule 1: cocaine, morphine, heroin, codeine, fentanyl, oxycodone, GHB, opium, amphetamines, MDMA
Schedule 2: cannabis, resin, and seeds
Schedule 3: LSD, psilocybin, mushrooms
Schedule 4: barbiturates, Clonazepam, Diazepam, and anabolic steroids
Schedule 5: precursors involved in the manufacturing of controlled substances

Penalties for both trafficking and possession for the purpose of trafficking in hard drugs is significant. The maximum sentence is up to lifetime imprisonment for Schedule 1 or 2 substances. The range of sentencing typically starts at 9-12 months in jail for a low level trafficking offence.

Courts have defined trafficking to include “giving” or “delivering” a drug to another person. Profit is not an element of the offence, however the Crown will certainly seek greater penalties where then can show that the offence was motivated by financial gain. The more the facts of the case point to the accused profiting from an organized distribution system, the greater the sentence Crown will seek upon conviction.

The Investigation

Police may be targeting a suspected drug trafficker based on information provided through a tip or, alternatively, police may literally stumble across a suspected drug trafficker during, say, a routine traffic stop or another encounter. In either situation, the law is the same. Police may not search someone for drugs unless they have “reasonable and probable grounds” to believe the person is in possession of a controlled substance. A mere hunch, or suspicion, is not enough.

As experienced drug defence lawyers, we can help clients understand their various rights under the Charter. First, everyone who is detained or arrested by police has the right to be promptly advised as to the reason for their detention and that they have the right to speak to a lawyer. This right is guaranteed by s. 10. The right to remain silent – i.e. the right to not provide a statement to police – is guaranteed by s. 7. In the context of a drug investigation, it is important for a suspect to know and understand that they have the right to remain silent upon arrest. Should charges be approved, the Crown will be obligated to provide full disclosure of the details of the case to the accused. There is clearly an advantage to understand the case against you before providing an explanation. This is the right of everyone in Canada.

Recent Successes

R. vs. M.M. - Courtenay Provincial Court

Charges: Sexual Assault (police investigation).
Issue: Whether it was in the public interest to proceed with criminal charges.
Result: Mr. Johnson was able to persuade police that it was in the parties' best interest and not contrary to the public interest to resolve this matter through Restorative Justice. No charges were approved. no criminal record.

R. vs. A.V. - Vancouver Provincial Court

Charges: Fraud Under $5000 (police investigation).
Issue: Whether it was in the public interest to proceed with the prosecution.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to assist our client to make civil restitution and to persuade police to not recommend any criminal charges. No charge was approved. No criminal record.

R. vs. J.P - North Vancouver Provincial Court

Charges: Assault; Breach of Undertaking (domestic).
Issue: Whether there was a substantial likelihood of a conviction and whether it was in the public interest to proceed.
Result: Mr. Johnson was able to persuade Crown counsel to stay all of the criminal charges and to allow our client to enter into a peace bond. No jail. No criminal record.

R. vs. F.K. - Vancouver Provincial Court

Charges: Dangerous Driving; Obstruct/Resist Arrest (Reduced to MVA charge).
Issue: Whether the Crown would be able to prove that our client had the necessary element of  intent for a criminal conviction.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to persuade Crown counsel to proceed on a lesser charge under the Motor Vehicle Act of speeding relative to the road conditions. Our client was sentenced to a driving prohibition. No criminal record.

R. vs. E.Z. - Vancouver Provincial Court

Charges: Assault with a Weapon; Possession of a Weapon for a Dangerous Purpose.
Issue: Whether there was a substantial likelihood of a criminal conviction.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to persuade Crown that there were flaws in the evidence and that a conviction was highly unlikely. No charges were approved. No criminal record.

R. vs. G.M.G. - Vancouver Provincial Court

Charges: Assault; Theft Under $5000.
Issue: Whether our client was acting to defend his spouse when he physically engaged with the complainant.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to provide further evidence to Crown counsel which persuaded Crown that there was no substantial likelihood of a conviction. Complete stay of proceedings. No criminal record.

R. vs. B.M. - New Westminster Provincial Court

Charge: Sexual Assault.
Issue: Whether there was merit in moving forward with the prosecution.
Result: Mr. Johnson was able to provide information to Crown counsel that led to Crown concluding there was no substantial likelihood of a conviction. Stay of proceedings. No jail. No criminal record.

R. vs. D.M. - Burnaby RCMP Investigation

Charges: Sexual Interference; Invitation to Sexual Touching; Assault.
Issue: Whether the evidence would lead to charges being approved.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to guide our client through the police investigation and to ultimately persuade the investigating officer that the evidence of the complaint was not reliable. No criminal charges were forwarded to Crown counsel.

R. vs. S.A. - Vancouver Provincial Court

Charge: Assault Causing Bodily Harm (Reduced to Peace Bond).
Issue: After directing our client through a course of self rehabilitation, whether it was in the public interest to proceed with the criminal prosecution.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to persuade Crown counsel to stay the criminal charge upon our client being placed on a peace bond. No criminal record.

R. vs. S.K. - North Vancouver Provincial Court

Charge: Driving while Prohibited.
Issue: Whether our client would be sentenced to the mandatory minimum 12 month driving prohibition.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to persuade Crown counsel to proceed on the lesser charge of driving without a valid drivers license. Our client was sentenced to a fine. No driving prohibition.

R. v. P.Z. - North Vancouver RCMP Investigation

Charges: Sexual Interference; Invitation to Sexual Touching; Assault.
Issue: Whether the evidence would lead to charges being approved.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to guide our client through the police investigation and to ultimately persuade the investigating officer that the evidence of the complaint was not reliable. No criminal charges were approved.

R. vs. N.D. - Port Coquitlam Provincial Court

Charges: Invitation to Sexual Touching (x2).
Issues: To what extent the court would consider our client's remorse and rehabilitation when passing sentence.
Result: Notwithstanding that our client was in a position of trust and the Crown had originally sought a sentence of 12 months jail, Mr. Mines was able to persuade Crown counsel and the Court that the appropriate sentence was 90 days, to be served on weekends.

The Defence

Unreasonable Search

Section 8 of the Charter guarantees the right to be free from an unreasonable search and seizure. The role of defence counsel in a drug case often involves analyzing the actions of investigating police officers to test whether they have, in fact, conducted a lawful search as authorized by the Charter. Drug searches can take place in a variety of contexts and places. In some situations, police must obtain pre-authorization from a judge or justice in order to search a place or thing. The requirement to obtain a search warrant will depend on the privacy interest the accused has in the thing searched. For example, a person has a very high privacy interest in their home or in their personal computer. They tend to have a lower privacy interest in things such as their friend’s car or their employer’s desk. Where police overreach their authority and search someone on a mere hunch, or based on assumptions rather than fact, we will apply to the court under s. 24(2) of the Charter to have the evidence excluded from the trial. The general idea is that when police obtain evidence from an unlawful search that violates our client’s rights, the court ought to see the evidence as “tainted” and tending to bring the administration of justice into disrepute. Without the admission of the drug evidence into the trial, the court will find insufficient evidence to convict.

The Drugs were not for the Purpose of Trafficking

In order to prove possession for the purpose of trafficking, the Crown will usually bring a police expert witness to court. They will testify that the circumstances of the drug seizure tend to prove that the drugs were intended to be sold or distributed. Typical evidence relates to the way the drugs are packaged – many small packs suggest trafficking. The presence of scales, “score sheets,” cash and cell phones also tend to suggest trafficking. Our experience in defending drug charges allows us to develop arguments aimed at challenging expert Crown witnesses on their opinions that the circumstances of the drug seizure necessarily suggest trafficking rather than simple possession. In many cases we have been able to negotiate possession for the purpose of trafficking charges down to simple possession charges to avoid jail sentences for our clients.

Lack of Possession

In many situations, accused persons are arrested without drugs directly in their possession. For example, they may be driving someone else’s car and drugs are found in an unmarked box in the trunk. A roommate may be charged with possession for the purpose of trafficking, but none of the drugs are found in their personal space of the residence. In these situations, the Crown will seek to prove possession through indirect, or circumstantial evidence. As experienced defence lawyers, we understand the Crown’s burden in proving that an accused had the requisite knowledge and control of the substance in order to be convicted. We are dedicated to holding the Crown to the high standard that the law requires when prosecuting drug offences. We are committed to defending our client’s rights as guaranteed by the Charter.

Start with a free consultation.

If you are being investigated by police or if you’ve been charged with a criminal or driving offence, don’t face the problem alone. Being accused of an offence is stressful. The prospects of a criminal record or jail sentence can be daunting. Even if you think there is no defence, we may be able to help. To schedule a free initial consultation with one of our Vancouver lawyers, contact us now.