A ziploc bag containing a single pill of gabapentin was placed front and centre as evidence during a supreme court case where an accused was acquitted after an officer believed the anticonvulsant drug was prohibited.
In a judgement rendered on May 14th, a majority of Supreme Court jurists ruled in favour of the accused.
In R V. Tim, the accused hit a sign on the side of the road and kept on driving.
When the police showed up, an officer requested to see documentation of the vehicle and the driver's licence. During this interaction, the officer saw the pill of gabapentin in question which led to the accused's arrest.
But gabapentin is not listed under Canada's Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Therefore, the arrest was made on a mistake of law. This case went all the way to the SCC, which ultimately ruled in the accused's favour on Charter grounds. To do so otherwise, the majority concluded, would bring justice into disrepute.
During the officer's first observations, the pill was mistakenly believed to be a controlled drug but it wasn't. Nevertheless, the accused was arrested before the police found illegal items in subsequent searches.
A more thorough pat-down turned up several pills of fentanyl and hydromorphone, a .22 rifle and a .45 handgun hidden on the accused's person.
Another cop arrived and found more fentanyl in the car, along with some bear spray and a folded knife. On their way to put the suspect into the vehicle, they also noticed he was walking strangely.
"At that time, he started limping and shaking his leg, which seemed strange to me at the time. It’s almost as though he had something falling down his pant leg or something concealed in his pants. So when I got him to my vehicle, before I placed him in the vehicle, more ammunition, like, .22 calibre ammunition, fell from inside of his pant leg, which was suspicious to me. So I conducted another search, thinking that I’ve missed some items," said a police officer.
The majority of the SCC court ruled that the evidence seized during the subsequent stages of searches were exculpatory.
" Canadian law has long held that an arrest based on a mistake of law is unlawful, even if the mistake is made in good faith. The concept of “reasonable and probable grounds” for arrest relates to the facts, not the existence of an offence in law. A police officer makes a mistake of law when the officer knows the facts and erroneously concludes that they amount to an offence, when, as a matter of law, they do not."The full ruling can be read here