Drunk driver properly questioned

Four years after the vehicle he was
driving collided with a palm tree; Jason Quesada Castro had three convictions
confirmed and disqualification from driving reinstated for 18 months.

The matter went to the Court of
Appeal twice and to the Grand Court three times before being resolved. One of
the issues was whether police should have asked any questions of him while he
was thought to be intoxicated.

Another issue was whether police
should have cautioned him before asking him if he was the driver involved in
the accident.

Last week, Justice Alex Henderson
delivered what is expected to be the final ruling in the matter. He reminded
Castro not to drive for 18 months and fined him $1,120 for careless driving,
driving under the influence of alcohol and leaving the scene of an accident.

The offences occurred on the night
of 18 June, 2006. A police officer on patrol received word of a one-car
accident near the Quincentennial Roundabout on North Sound Road. She also
received information that the possible driver was walking toward Eastern
Avenue.

The officer checked the vehicle,
which had collided with a palm tree and a road sign. She found no one in the
vehicle, but observed damage to the vehicle’s front tyres. She then traced the
owner of the vehicle and learned that the owner had lent her car to her boyfriend.

Castro was subsequently located at
a friend’s residence on Eastern Avenue.

During the trial, in May 2007, the
officer said she found Castro in a room, lying down, and she spoke to him about
the accident.  She asked if he was the
driver and he said yes. She asked why he left the scene. He said he had been
drinking and there was little damage caused. She then arrested him.

Under cross-examination at the
trial, the officer said she had a suspicion Castro had left he scene and was
under the influence of alcohol.

At that stage his attorney argued
that no questions should have been asked of him while he was thought to be intoxicated
and he should not have been asked whether he was the driver without having been
cautioned.

The Chief Magistrate ruled against
those submissions.

She then dealt with the argument
that Castro’s admission to being the driver should be excluded as evidence
because he was intoxicated at the time.

“I do not agree,” she said.

Further, despite Castro’s
inebriated state, he had no difficulty understanding what was asked of him and
was able to answer coherently.

The next point was whether Castro
should have been cautioned before being asked why he left the scene. The
magistrate identified the issue — did the officer at that point have
sufficient evidence to put before a court? The answer was no and so the officer
was entitled to ask the question without first cautioning the suspect.

But even if she were wrong on the
point, the magistrate said she did not think Castro’s answers were obtained
unfairly.

That ruling was argued in Grand
Court, which found in Castro’s favour. The Crown then took the matter to the
Court of Appeal. In August 2008 this highest local court determined that a
ruling during a Summary Court trial cannot be appealed and the matter was sent
back to the Chief Magistrate’s court for continuation of the trial.

It resumed in November 2008. This
time, when the officer continued her evidence she said she was suspicious that
Castro had been driving while intoxicated and had left the scene. Her suspicion
was on two grounds — her own observations and conversations with others. She
added that when she found him he appeared to be intoxicated and of Spanish
origin.

The Defence argued that this was
new evidence significant enough to raise the question of admissibility.

Again the magistrate disagreed.

Castro again appealed to the Grand
Court. There the judge observed that the accident had not caused any damage to
the road sign or the tree and he quashed the convictions.

The Crown took the matter back to
the Court of Appeal in March 2010.

The Court of Appeal sent the matter
back to Grand Court, where Justice Henderson heard arguments from Defence Attorney
Nicholas Dixey and Crown Counsel John Masters.

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