Nfld. & Labrador

Concussion voids confession: St. John's man acquitted of drunk driving charge

The ruling ends a court case that began after a rollover accident in Goulds five years ago.

Judge rules man had diminished capacity when he waived right to lawyer, consented to blood samples

The ruling comes five years after charges were laid and a trial held in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court. (Glenn Payette/CBC)

A man who confessed to impaired driving after an accident in St. John's five years ago has been acquitted of charges, as a judge has ruled he had a concussion and did not understand what he was saying.

In a written decision tabled Dec. 22 in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador, Justice Carl Thompson said the injuries meant Bradley Lambert was not rational when questioned by police after the accident.

Thompson also ruled that Lambert was in no frame of mind to waive his right to a lawyer when the offer was made in an ambulance at the accident scene — and later in a hospital emergency room. 

Justice Carl Thompson said the accused was not behaving rationally because of his head injuries. ((CBC))

The ruling, which was made verbally from the bench in October, left the Crown unable to enter key evidence, including blood samples and two statements by Lambert.

It's an end to a complicated case that has chewed up weeks of court time. Defence lawyer Mark Gruchy said it also shows that "it's not appropriate for a police officer to jump into the back of an ambulance and talk to a patient after an accident."

Accident left two injured

A Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officer testified in court that he arrived at the accident scene on Power's Road around 11:50 p.m. on Sept. 17, 2011.

Sgt. Jeff Thistle saw a car on its roof, with one man lying halfway out the passenger window.  Lambert had been thrown about 30 feet into a ditch.

Both were hurt, and Lambert had to be strapped to a spinal restraint.

Thistle questioned Lambert and the other man, who were in separate ambulances. He told the court Lambert was read his rights and declined a lawyer, saying "I was drinking and driving; I told you, give me the ticket."

The confession was repeated at the Health Sciences Centre, according to Thistle, who said when he asked for a blood sample, Lambert said "If it's needed. You know I'm impaired."

A police cadet who rode to the hospital in the ambulance said Lambert was confused and in pain, asking what had happened and yelling "I remember nothing." 

Lambert himself told the court he had taken his uncle's car, had two beers during a stop at the pipeline in Goulds, but does not remember the accident or any conversations with police or hospital staff.

His girlfriend testified he was incoherent when she saw him in the emergency room, asking what had happened and who was driving.

Not able to understand

Neurologist Dr. Alan Goodridge testified that in his opinion, the symptoms showed that the accused had a significant concussion and amnesia after being thrown from the car and hitting his head.

He said Lambert's thinking would have been disorganized and not logical.

It's not appropriate for a police officer to jump into the back of an ambulance and talk to a patient after an accident.- Defence lawyer Mark Gruchy

Judge Thompson concluded there were reasonable doubts the accused "had the cognitive ability to comprehend what was said to him" and to understand his legal rights, or the trouble he was in.

He ruled the confessions and the blood sample could not be admitted as evidence to support the charge of impaired driving causing bodily harm.

Thompson also ruled that Lambert's Charter rights were breached because he would not have been able to consult with a lawyer in an ambulance or emergency room.

Gruchy, acting for the defence, said Tuesday that Lambert and his friend have mostly recovered from their injuries.

No one knows the cause of the accident, he said, and the court did not get around to the issue of who was driving.