Director of Civil Forfeiture v. Huynh, 2012 BCSC 740

Counsel for the Defendant, Trinh Tu Huyuh, argued that serious problems with a search warrant pertaining to Ms. Huyuh’s property (where a marijuana grow operation was discovered) had resulted in numerous Charter breaches, leading to a stay of proceedings in the criminal case against her. The question at issue was whether the court would allow the equivalent of a constitutional voir dire in the civil forfeiture action against Ms. Huyuh’s property, potentially resulting in the exclusion of evidence in advance of a full trial on the merits.

Mr. Justice Schultes of the BC Supreme Court ultimately concluded that there was a serious possibility that the matter could be resolved through a hearing on the constitutional issue alone, and that there should therefore be a bifurcated trial with the first portion dealing with constitutional issues alone:

“Considering all of these factors, I conclude that there is a meaningful possibility that the outcome of the Charter applications could resolve this case completely. This is one of those relatively uncommon cases that must have been envisioned by the framers of the rule, in which deciding one issue first offers benefits that significantly outweigh the presumptive inefficiency of litigating in slices … The analogy I draw here is to personal injury cases in which there is a really meaningful possibility that liability will not be found and that therefore that an assessment of damages will never be necessary.”

This decision goes to show that at least some of BC’s Supreme Court Justices are willing to give serious consideration to Charter issues in cases under the Civil Forfeiture Act, and that the Civil Forfeiture Office should expect serious challenges on constitutional issues in the months and years to come.

Decided by the BC Supreme Court on April 25, 2012.
Click here for the full text of the decision.

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