Police can't 'fish' for evidence, Supreme Court rules

OTTAWA - Police officers can temporarily detain suspects if they have reasonable grounds, but they can't go on "fishing expeditions" for evidence in the pockets of people they're detaining, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled on Friday.

The decision upholds a ruling by a trial judge in Winnipeg, who acquitted Phillip Henry Mann of possessing marijuana for the purpose of trafficking.

Winnipeg police had stopped Mann on the street, saying he matched the description of a break-and-enter suspect. During a pat-down, police felt a soft object in his pocket. An officer reached in and discovered a bag of marijuana.

The court wrote that reaching into Mann's pocket after feeling a soft object was "problematic" because the object didn't pose a security risk to the officer.

"The search here went beyond what was required to mitigate concerns about officer safety and reflects a serious breach of (Mann's) protection against unreasonable search and seizure," the court wrote.

"Individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their pockets," wrote Justice Frank Iacobucci in a majority decision that divided the court 5-2.

Mann was acquitted at his initial trial, but an Appeal Court judge overturned the decision and found that the pat-down and search were allowed.

Written by CBC News Online staff