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Qld Supreme Court throws out police evidence after power misuse

A Queensland firm has weighed in on a Supreme Court’s decision to throw out police evidence in a major drug trafficking matter.

user iconNaomi Neilson 31 May 2023 Big Law
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While patrolling an area they said was “commonly used by drug offenders”, Moreton District Constable Michael Carr and Senior Constable Brent Schulz executed a search of an alleged drug offender’s car and found more than 22 grams of methylamphetamine.

Sheldon John Davis was asked to step out of the car and allegedly admitted to police during interviews that he shared the drugs with others and was involved in the business of trafficking them.

However, the Supreme Court of Queensland found the officers misused the Police Powers and Responsibilities Act 2000 and threw out evidence of things found during the search, examination of the accused man’s phone and conversations with the accused.

 
 

Mr Davis’ barrister Paul Rutledge submitted the interception was unlawful because the officers’ real purpose in pulling over his client was not to enforce the transport laws they were on patrol for.

The officers used section 60 of the act to pull the vehicle over, which allows police members to do so without holding any suspicion but with the “prescribed purpose” of checking for traffic law offences.

They then used section 31 to search the car on the basis that “they reasonably suspected there were dangerous drugs”.

Creevey Horrell crime and misconduct team lawyer Craig van der Horn told Lawyers Weekly it was something that often occurs in courts, but the current attention on this particular drug matter was good to deter police officers from making similar mistakes.

“It’s good for the public to be able to see that it is something the court does give significant weight to,” Mr van der Hoven said.

Mr Davis submitted that even if the interception was found to be lawful, the detention and search could not be, and any suspicion of drugs inside the car was not held “on grounds that are reasonable”.

The Crown conceded if the interception was illegal, then the detention, search and all that followed “were tainted by illegality”.

During evidence of Senior Constable Schulz, Justice Peter Davis found his miscategorisation of his actions as traffic enforcement “was no doubt a reflection of what he had been instructed by more senior police”.

“It is in the public interest to denounce the conduct of police in deliberately misusing statutorily vested powers,” Justice Davis said.

“In my view, that consideration outweighs the interest of the public in seeing the applicant prosecuted for what are obviously fairly serious offences.”

Creevy Horrell Lawyers principal Dan Creevey said the evidence was considered “fruit of the poisonous tree” and commended the Supreme Court for “clamping down” on the misuse of regulations.

“In this case, the Supreme Court has acted in the public interest by finding police had obtained evidence illegally, and it was ruled inadmissible,” Mr Creevey said.

“Police have a hard job to do, but they are required to act within the law.”