TORONTO — A student found at her high school prom with cocaine in her purse has failed to have her case thrown out as a violation of her rights.
In convicting the young woman, Ontario court Judge Amit Ghosh said there was nothing wrong with the mandatory search that turned up the drug.
"Despite the absence of reasonable grounds, the mandatory security search of bags at a prom is reasonable in all the circumstances," Ghosh said in his recent decision. "This was a voluntarily attended prom party."
The teen, Maria Calabretta, was charged with possession in June 2019 when she went to her prom at a banquet hall in Vaughan, Ont. She had a two-gram bag of cocaine in her purse.
Evidence was that Calabretta had bought an entry ticket that stated drugs and alcohol were prohibited. She stood in a security line at the hall while school administrators briefly checked bags and purses for illicit substances, alcohol or weapons. Men searched the male students' belongings, women the females'.
About 300 students attended the prom and about half were younger than 18, court records show. The mandatory bag searches and hiring of off-duty officers, the school said, were to ensure the safety and security of attendees, not to investigate criminal activity.
When it was her turn, Calabretta opened her purse for the vice-principal, who, after spotting a small straw inside that could be used for snorting a drug, found the baggie. The teen quickly admitted it was coke.
At that point, the vice-principal alerted nearby paid-duty officers, who arrested her for possession.
Calabretta argued at trial the mandatory searches were done without reasonable grounds in violation of the charter. She wanted the cocaine evidence thrown out. Ghosh, however, was having none of it.
He noted a charter search violation occurs when a person has a "reasonable expectation of privacy." While the accused did have such an expectation regarding her purse, it was lessened given the situation, the judge said.
Calabretta, he said, could simply have chosen to leave the prom to get rid of the drugs, and then returned. The off-duty officers were not involved in the search, he noted.
It was not, he said, similar to a situation in which police stop a motorist and demand a breath sample or search the vehicle.
In this case, the vice-principal testified the student could have refused to open her bag when asked, and would then likely have just been asked to leave.
Any impact on her charter rights, Ghosh said, was "negligible at best."
Calabretta's lawyer said his client would have no comment.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Oct. 7, 2020.
Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press