Seized cash circumstantial evidence that accused is drug trafficker: Ontario Court of Appeal

Jury charge not confusing, gave proper direction on how evidence can be used

Seized cash circumstantial evidence that accused is drug trafficker: Ontario Court of Appeal

The Ontario Court of Appeal has found that a trial judge made no errors in cautioning a jury against improper propensity reasoning in connection with seizures of money from an appellant’s person and home in relation to drug possession charges.

In R. v. Jahangiri, 2022 ONCA 644, police received information that Christopher Scollon would arrive in Windsor, ON, with drugs, saw him carrying a red backpack at the train station, followed him to a storage hut on Pillette Road, waited until he left, and followed him to an address on Eastcourt Drive.

The appellant shared the house with his girlfriend and Scollon, who was his housemate and long-time friend. The appellant left the house while carrying a duffel bag, drove to the hut, and entered it.

After the appellant left the hut, police arrested him and searched him incident to the arrest. The officers discovered crack cocaine, $2,025 in cash, multiple cellphones, and a scale. They then searched the hut and found more cocaine apportioned in Ziploc bags.

That same day, police also seized $18,000 in cash from a safe in the master bedroom of the house on Eastcourt Drive and $50,050 in cash from the attic bedroom of his parents’ home on Moy Avenue.

The appellant and Scollon were charged with possession of cocaine for the purpose of trafficking. Scollon pleaded guilty and testified for the defence. At a trial before a judge and jury, the issue was whether the appellant and Scollon had joint possession of the seized cocaine, amounting to about two kilograms.

The trial judge initially found the money seized from the appellant’s house and from his parents’ home admissible, then ultimately instructed the jury to ignore the cash seizure from the parents’ residence. The appellant received a conviction and a sentence of eight years’ imprisonment, less pre-sentence custody.

First, the appellate court ruled that the trial judge properly admitted the money seized from the appellant’s home. The large quantity of cash in his bedroom was not dependent on tendency reasoning for its probative value and was not presumptively inadmissible evidence of discreditable conduct that required an application under Rule 30 of the Criminal Proceedings Rules, the court said.

Money from appellant’s home circumstantial evidence

Instead, the court decided that this money was contemporaneous circumstantial evidence that the appellant was a drug trafficker at that time and that he could buy the cocaine at issue. The court could consider this cash alongside the other evidence for determining whether he had possession of the drugs.

Second, the appellate court held that the jury charge was not confusing or misleading and that it provided appropriate direction on the use of the money seized from the appellant’s person and his home.

The judge properly instructed the jury to consider this money only as circumstantial evidence and specifically cautioned the jury against reasoning, in connection with this evidence, that the appellant was involved in criminal activity or was the type of person who would commit this crime, the court noted.

Lastly, the appellate court concluded that the guilty verdict was one that a jury – properly instructed and acting judicially – could reasonably render. There was ample evidence that the appellant was guilty of possessing cocaine for the purpose of trafficking, the court said.

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