NORML New Zealand President Chris Fowlie was today found not guilty of possession of cannabis. A written decision delivered by Judge JP Gittos in the Auckland District Court found the charge was not proved on the facts, and also found the search to be unreasonable and the evidence inadmissible.

Chris Fowlie was searched and arrested by the Team Policing Unit on Auckland's Karangahape Road on June 17, 2001 and prosecuted with possession of 0.7 grams of cannabis. He was represented by Auckland barrister Peter Winter.

In a written decision, Judge Gittos said: "On the state of evidence before me my mind is not persuaded beyond reasonable doubt that the Officers were minded to search solely by reason of detecting a smell of cannabis emanating from the Defendant. Nor am I satisfied that it has been proven beyond reasonable doubt that proper advice pursuant to the Bill of Rights Act was given to the Defendant before the search was undertaken. In those circumstances, the search has not been shown to be lawful and the evidence derived from it should not be admitted. On the facts therefore I do not find the charge to be proved."

Judge Gittos continued: "The circumstances overall leave an uncomfortable perception that the conduct of what Constable Hoshek described as a "sweep" by a Team Policing Unit may involve Officers engineering opportunities to conduct personal searches of persons minding their own business in a public street at random or on a purely speculative basis. It needs hardly be said that such conduct would manifestly contravene the provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act. I conclude therefore that even had the evidence been such as to prove beyond a reasonable doubt all the requisite formalities, in my judgement the search conducted of Mr Fowlie was unreasonable and the evidence obtained thereby should be regarded as inadmissible. The charge is dismissed."

Mr Fowlie said the ruling would have a big impact on the way Police behave and sends a clear message they cannot ignore the Bill of Rights Act just because they want to look in someone's pockets.

"Police will no longer be able to say they smell cannabis to get around the right to be free from unreasonable search. More than thirty people are arrested every day for possession of cannabis, and many are the result of similar unreasonable searches," he said.

Mr Fowlie urged other people who have had their rights abused to fight the charges in court, and called for the Police's operations manual to be reviewed to put an end to police misbehavior.

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Contact:

Chris Fowlie 025 297 6843 Peter Winter: 0274 499987

More information: http://www.norml.org.nz/chrisfowliebusted.htm