Hollywood crime dramas are infamous for the scene when an accused is taken to a local police station and permitted a single phone call to contact a relative or lawyer. While the storyline is myth – there is no limit on the number of phone calls available to an accused or detainee – a recent Alberta case established a new, real requirement for law enforcement. After a 19-year old struggled to find a lawyer using the telephone, the court ruled that police must provide an accused with Internet access in order to exercise their right to counsel.
Christopher McKay, who faced a driving while under the influence charge, told police that he wanted to exercise his right to legal counsel. McKay’s cellphone and other personal belongings were placed in a police locker when he arrived at the station. McKay was told there was a toll-free number available to contact a lawyer as well as White and Yellow pages that could be consulted. He called the toll-free number but was unable to find assistance.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that what followed was the product of a demographic deeply familiar Hollywood movies and reliant on the Internet. McKay assumed that he had used his single phone call and did not consider using directory assistance (411), which he did not think was a “viable search engine.” Instead, he noted that Google was his main method to search for information.