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The Miller Case - All Contraband is not Alike

The potential for misinterpretation, because of the virtual absence of written reasons for the Independent Chairpersons' decision, are not restricted to cases where a prisoner is found not guilty. Even in the case of a guilty plea or a guilty verdict, there are circumstances in which the offence report may not convey the facts upon which the plea or verdict is based. A case which arose at Matsqui Institution illustrated how this can occur. Mr. Miller was charged with contraband and six items were listed on the offence report; one shank approximately 11 inches; one knife approximately five inches; one Citizen quartz watch; one Seiko watch; three small keys; and one metal tube rod.

Mr. Miller, when he was asked to plea, said that he pleaded guilty and not guilty. He admitted that what was described as a five inch knife was his and explained that it was an exacto blade, which he had tied to a small piece of wood and which he used for cutting up cheese. He did not admit to being in possession of the 11 inch blade. He said that this was discovered inside a metal tube, that had at one time had at one time been used as a coat rack in his closet, but when he took possession of the cell, it had already been twisted towards the back of the closet and a wooden rod had been substituted. He never looked inside the twisted tube. He said that the day this was discovered there was a general search and he had been in and out of his cell on several occasions; if it had been his or if he knew about it, he certainly would not have left it there. Therefore, he was pleading not guilty to knowing the 11 inch knife was in his cell. He also said that he was pleading not guilty to the watches and the keys because these were not contraband. If the institution wanted to charge him for these, he should have been charged with being in possession of unauthorised items. Mr. Miller submitted that the items were not contraband as defined by the CCRA because there was no prejudice to the security of the institution. The last item of contraband was the metal rod in which the knife was found and, as he said, this had been installed in his closet before he ever took possession of the cell. Mr. Miller said he just wanted to make it clear that he was only pleading guilty to the exacto knife. He made the point that he had never been convicted of any charges involving weapons and that the exacto knife was not a weapon, but was used for cutting food. Mr. Gerl recommended a sentence of 30 days segregation suspended for 90, which Mr. Walters imposed.

Immediately after the disposition of this case, I asked the court clerk to show me the notations made on the offence report by Mr. Walters. They indicated only that Mr. Miller had pleaded guilty and the sentence imposed. There was no note as to the limited nature of Mr. Miller's guilty plea.

In Mr. Miller's case, there was a great deal of difference between the unauthorised items, the exacto knife with a small blade and the 11 inch shank, which would have no other use except as a weapon. The problem which Mr. Miller's case raised is that anyone subsequently looking at Mr. Miller's file and seeing a conviction of contraband with all those items listed on the offence sheet, would assume that he was found guilty of all those items and reasonably infer that Mr. Miller was armed with a highly offensive, potentially lethal weapon. This could be a critical matter in determining transfer to higher security or a parole.

Because of the implication of this conviction for Mr. Miller, I pointed out the problem to Mr. Walters and he readily recognized that the limited scope of Mr. Miller's guilty plea was not reflected on the decision sheet. Accordingly, he suggested that the contraband items be numbered and he then made an amendment to the guilty plea so that in Mr. Miller's case it now read "guilty plea confined to number two above". This is the appropriate way to deal with this issue and it should be a standard practice.

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Mike Miller