Admissibility of Statements made by Youth Offenders.

Published On: Jul 16,2018

 Youth Criminal Justice Act.
Right to Counsel and the Admissibility of Statements of Young Offenders in Canada

When the police are interacting with minors the common-law rules of voluntariness and counsel differ relative to adults.  The initial stages of the investigation are critical and it is imperative that you understand your rights relative to a police investigation at the outset.  In Reginav. N.B., 2018 ONCA 556, the Ontario Court of Appeal  set aside a conviction for first degree murder that was allegedly committed by a 16-year-old.  The police took incriminating statements from him in violation of the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

The factual basis of the allegations involved the accused allegedly brought a group of people to the body of the deceased, his cousin, and the police were contacted. The young accused was in a highly agitated state; was handcuffed; and placed in a locked police car after pushing a police officer. The police later took him to the police station, and placed in an interview room.  He was told (erroneously) by the police that he was not under arrest and did not need his rights read to him. The police then interviewed him, confronting him for changing his version of events and telling him (falsely) that they had incriminating video from a surveillance camera.

At trial, the Crown Prosecutor, fairly conceded that the police breached the accused’s right to counsel and ss.25(2) and 146 of the Youth Criminal Justice Act\ (which govern the taking of statements). The trial judge admitted the accused’s statements, holding the accused had been only a witness in the murder investigation, even if arrested and detained for breaching the peace or obstructing police.

The court held that the trial judge had improperly shifted the burden to the defence to show the accused was psychologically detained. The burden should have been on the Crown regarding both the detention and whether the statutory preconditions of the Youth Criminal Justice Act for the admissibility of his statements had been met. When the proper onus was applied, a reasonable person would conclude the accused had believed he was not free to leave the interview room without speaking to the officers.  The Court stated the following in relevant part:

[103]    The trial judge’s discussion of burden of proof was confusing – at times he seemed to place the onus on the Crown, and at other times on the appellant.  I have concluded that the trial judge held that the appellant failed to meet his burden that he was psychologically detained on a balance of probabilities.

[104]    At p. 2 of his ruling, the trial judge first noted that the burden of proof with respect to proving the voluntariness of the statements lay with the Crown and the standard was beyond a reasonable doubt.  He then stated that the burden of proof of compliance with s. 146 of the YCJA lay with the Crown, also to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.  The onus of proof of a breach of s. 10(b) of the Charter lay with the appellant, on a balance of probabilities.  So far, so good.

[105]    Then, at p. 20 of his ruling, the trial judge stated:
After his arrest at the scene for obstruct police and his transport to the police station for the conduct of an interview until 1:59 a.m. on March 10, 2006, [N.B.] was in effect detained.  Until 1:59 a.m. on March 10, 2006, at which time [N.B.] was arrested for first degree murder, no officer advised him of his rights under s. 25(2) of the YCJA or of any of his Charter rights or had the requirements of s. 146 of the YCJA been implemented.

[106]    The trial judge considered voluntariness, and found the appellant’s statements and utterances to be voluntary.

[107]    Next, he concluded that the appellant had been neither detained nor arrested for the offense he was charged with – first degree murder – prior to 1:59 a.m. on March 10, 2006.  At p. 35, the trial judge accepted the evidence offered by way of agreed facts and viva voce evidence of Detective Constables Brooks and Parcells that neither they nor any other police officer had reasonable grounds to consider the appellant a suspect at the time the statements were made. He was satisfied that before the appellant was transferred from the scene to the police station, “the decision was made that he was not under arrest and the removal of the handcuffs by Sergeant [Berriault] was corroborative of that fact, but that [N.B.] was clearly being viewed and treated as a witness only”: p. 36.

[108]    Having dealt with the issues of reasonable grounds and arrest, he then turned to whether the appellant had been detained prior to his arrest.  He stated at p. 39:

In this case, [the appellant] bears the responsibility of establishing on a balance of probabilities that he was psychologically detained.
[109]    As mentioned, this was an error.  As I have explained, the

burden to show that he was detained never shifted from the Crown to the appellant.  Reading his reasons as a whole, it appears that the trial judge was aware that, if any of the three preconditions to s. 146(2) were met, the burden was on the Crown to establish implementation of the protections beyond a reasonable doubt.  However, he failed to appreciate that the burden was also on the Crown to prove the absence of the preconditions beyond a reasonable doubt.

The trial judge also erred by holding that s.146 only applied where the accused is detained or arrested for the offence about which the police were questioning him or her. The statutory protections apply even if the accused has been detained or arrested for an unrelated offence.  The court held these were not technical irregularities and thus the statements could not be admitted under ss.146(6).

If you have been charged with a criminal offence  and you fall within the  Youth Criminal Justice Act., call Mr. J.S. Patel, Criminal Lawyer in Calgary or Toronto at 403-585-1960.