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The Queen v. Arleen J. (Toronto)

The Charges: Possession of a loaded prohibited firearm (x2); possession of prohibited ammunition; careless storage of a firearm (x2).

The Facts: Arleen J. was dating a gang member with a criminal record for drugs and firearms offences. He was regularly targeted by police. He lived in an apartment complex in Toronto notorious for criminal activity, including drug trafficking and gun violence. There had recently been a fatal shooting nearby. Arleen J. lived in a small basement apartment that she shared with her brother and his girlfriend, but she spent most nights at her boyfriend’s apartment. One morning at 5:00 a.m., a police tactical team broke down the door with a battering ram and a search warrant, and raided the apartment. Arleen was sleeping there at the time, but her boyfriend was not there. Police charged both of them with possession of two semiautomatic firearms that were discovered in the residence: one in a cookie tin in the kitchen, and another in a bedside drawer.

The Defence Strategy: In order to be found guilty of gun possession, the Crown must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Arleen knew about the guns, and had some measure of control over them. Our theory was that the police were far more interested in convicting the boyfriend and wished to use her to secure evidence against him. Detectives interrogated her at length, and used threats and promises to try to convince her to cooperate, but she followed our advice to remain silent. The Crown approached us and offered to withdraw the charges against her if she testified against her boyfriend, but we refused the offer. We lined up witnesses to show that Arleen lived primarily in the basement apartment with her brother. The boyfriend’s landlord produced the rental agreement signed only by the boyfriend and not Arleen. The guns did not have Arleen’s fingerprints on them. She kept some clothes and toiletries in the apartment, but not in the bedside table where the gun was found.

The Result: We did not wait for trial, but rather pressed hard at the preliminary hearing to have the charges against Arleen dismissed on the basis that there was insufficient evidence that she had knowledge and control over the guns to warrant a trial. The Court agreed, and the charges against Arleen were dismissed.

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