A Calgary lawyer says a Supreme Court of Canada ruling on the use of so-called Mr. Big stings will have huge implications for her client’s upcoming murder trial.
Canada's top court ruled on Thursday that Mr. Big stings — where undercover officers pose as criminals to draw confessions from suspects — can produce unreliable admissions of guilt and are open to abuses.
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The majority decision does not forbid Mr. Big stings but puts strict new rules on how police can conduct them.
Honorio’s defence counsel Tonii Roulston said the Supreme Court ruling will definitely play a role in his retrial, which is set for January 2016.
"This will be part of the application — trying to have the Mr. Big confession and all the other scenarios excluded,” she said.
Honorio was recorded on tape confessing to a role in the 2009 New Year's Day triple murder at the Bolsa restaurant in southeast Calgary where two rival gang members were gunned down, along with an bystander.
Honorio thought he was talking to a crime boss, but it was actually an undercover officer.
"I think the problem for the justice system is that when juries and judges hear a so-called confession they tend to believe it first and conduct an analysis later of the actual evidence," said Roulston.
Roulston says there are inconsistencies between the "hold back" evidence — information not disclosed by police — and her client's confession.
Last year Honorio was also granted a new trial after the credibility of a key witness for the prosecution was called into question.
Calgary police react
Calgary police say they don't use Mr. Big stings very often.
And there are already strict guidelines in place, said Insp. Barry Balerud.
"We are not really anticipating that this is going to impact on how we've been doing business,” he said.
Balerud said police will continue working with Crown prosecutors when deciding how the stings are used in the future.
"It's important to note that the court determined that securing this type of evidence is not unlawful but there are limits on how it can be done, as set out by the Supreme Court of Canada," said a spokesperson for Alberta Justice.
But defence lawyer Jim Lutz says there are many problems with Mr. Big stings.
"You're asking this person to participate in a dishonest organization and of course they'll say things that will make them look better and engender themselves in the eyes of the people in the organization," he said.
Those who study criminal justice believe it could open up some past cases, as there are people in prison today who are there because of a Mr. Big operation.
"So it will be interesting to see what implications that will have on those already convicted individuals," said Doug King, a professor of Justice Studies at Mount Royal University.
He expects some of them will petition the court for a new trial on the grounds of wrongful conviction.
"This won't automatically lead to a pile of new retrials," said King. "It will assessed on a case-by-case basis."