On Friday, Jun. 30, 2023, Justice Kristin Muszynski found Jonathan Samuel guilty of possessing fentanyl and cocaine for the purpose of trafficking, obstructing a peace officer, unlawful entry into a dwelling house, various breaches of a release order, and breach of a probation.
Samuel’s “best friend” attempted to take partial responsibility for crimes committed by Samuel, but the judge found him guilty anyway, calling it a “transparently weak attempt to deflect blame.” It didn’t help that the best friend has a lengthy criminal record and is currently awaiting trial for murder.
Additionally, Samuel had claimed grounds for a mistrial and that police had breached his Charter right to privacy, but both were dismissed.
The circumstances leading to the trial
According to court records, Jonathan Samuel was on parole on the evening of Wednesday, Jun. 9, 2021, when police were called to a Kingston hotel following reports of a violent domestic disturbance in one of the guest rooms.
A woman, who was staying in room 809, testified that around 4:30 a.m. on Thursday, Jun. 10, 2021, she woke to a loud argument between a male and female about infidelity, as well as banging against the wall and cries from the female to “stop.” The noise was coming from room 808.
Police were called and officers were directed to a room on the eighth floor by hotel staff, where they found a female in distress. The woman was visibly distraught, but told officers that she and her partner were just being too loud while having sex.
Officers testified that they did not believe that the woman was well, and they indicated to her that they needed to speak with the male in the room, who had not yet come to the door. According to testimony by the officers, the woman did not protest, and they entered the room saying “police.”
The officers testified that they could not find a man in the room, but that one officer went out onto the balcony and saw Samuel on the balcony next door.
According to records, Samuel, at this time, claimed to be a guest in room 809 who was on the balcony “praying.” Suspecting that he was not being honest, the officer suggested that he go back inside his room, whereupon Samuel tried to open the door to Room 809, but it was locked.
This was when one officer spotted a small light-coloured bag on the floor of the balcony of Room 809 and asked Samuel to explain what it was and what it was doing there. That officer testified that Samuel got increasingly agitated and uncommunicative. Samuel picked up the bag and “frisbee-tossed” it to the street below, and then put his leg over the balcony like he was going to jump over.
A second officer had entered room 809 to speak with the original noise complainant, and that officer testified that, when she saw Samuel toss the bag and act as though he would jump, she opened the balcony door, pulled him forcefully into the room, and placed him under arrest.
According to the records, the bag Samuel tossed off the balcony was a small cream-coloured toiletry bag full of fentanyl and cocaine worth tens of thousands of dollars. It also contained $170 in cash.
Charged with possessing fentanyl and cocaine for the purpose of trafficking, obstructing a peace officer (for lying about praying and claiming he was a guest of room 809), and unlawful entry into a dwelling house (for climbing onto a balcony he was not legally allowed to occupy), various breaches of a release order, and breach of a probation order, Samuel was tried on January 5, 6, 7, and 8, 2023.
Mistrial application and Charter Rights claim
At the end of day one of the trial, wrote the judge, the counsel for the defence requested a 20-minute break to speak with his client, which she allowed. After 20 minutes, counsel for Mr. Samuel stated that it would be better to return the next day.
“Not knowing the nature of the issue that precipitated the request to break early for the day and concerned about the prospect of a mistrial or an adjournment request breaking up the trial schedule,” noted the Judge, “I emailed the registrar and requested that she inform counsel after I left the courtroom, that there were other judges in the building in case they wanted to speak with any. I am advised that the registrar relayed this information to counsel after Mr. Samuel had been brought out of the courtroom.”
The next day, a mistrial application was brought by Mr. Samuel “alleging that my comment about there being other judges in the building available to speak with counsel was inappropriate and raised the appearance of unfairness…that [I was inferring] this was a case that should be resolved… [and] reasonably suggests that an acquittal is not an option for this court,” and a mistrial is required.
Also, at trial, Samuel maintained that the police breached his Charter rights by entering unlawfully into his hotel room and further by opening the toiletry bag full of cash and drugs without a proper warrant.
The decision of the judge
In her decision, Justice Muszynski wrote, “Mr. Samuel was subject to release and probation orders at the material time and that the evidence at trial establishes that he was in breach of those orders. I, therefore, find Mr. Samuel guilty with respect to [those counts].”
She further wrote that it “was a touch rich” for the defence to speak of Samuel’s serious expectation of privacy in regard to the toiletry bag and its content. The defence’s position was that the bag did not belong to Samuel, but rather to Roy Snyder.
Readers may recall that Snyder, who is presently living at Quinte Detention Centre in Napanee, is currently awaiting trial for his own charges of second-degree murder and possession of a weapon. Roy Snyder’s criminal record, which includes 43 prior convictions, was entered into evidence.
In the Samuel trial, Snyder testified that Samuel is one of his best friends, that the pair are currently housed on the same range at Quinte Detention Centre, and that he had talked to him as recently as the morning when he testified.
Although he could not recall the specific date, Snyder testified that he did remember arranging to meet up with the woman who shared the hotel room with Samuel to provide the couple with some “party favours,” meaning crack cocaine. Earlier that day, Mr. Snyder claims, Samuel he picked up large amounts of fentanyl and cocaine, which he was both selling and using.
Snyder testified that at approximately 10:00 p.m., he arrived at the hotel where he noticed a police vehicle in the parking lot. He stated that he entered room 808, went out on the balcony for a smoke, and stashed a large tan knapsack containing drugs and $700 in cash on the balcony next door.
Snyder testified that, over the next hour, he socialized in room 808, but that when he left, he forgot to take the knapsack from the adjacent balcony.
The judge was not having it. She noted that the cream-coloured toiletry bag contained $170 in Canadian currency (including older bills), and various plastic baggies containing fentanyl and cocaine. The toiletry bag is only slightly longer than the length of the Canadian bills that were contained inside, she noted, and not at all in keeping with Snyder’s own description of a bag that was a “carry-all” or “knapsack” that was large enough to carry clothing.
Further, she wrote that there are serious credibility issues with Mr. Snyder’s testimony, including his “lengthy criminal record that includes several convictions of crimes of dishonesty.”
She noted that Snyder could not recall many key details of the night, including exactly when it was, or the name of the hotel he visited. He had recalled the bag containing older paper bills, but had testified that there was $700 in cash when police recovered $170.
Lastly, the judge found it incredulous that he would just forget a bag of drugs with a street value between $20,000-$25,000. “I reject Mr. Snyder’s evidence that the toiletry bag, and drugs discovered therein, belonged to him… Put more bluntly, Mr. Snyder’s evidence was a transparently weak attempt to deflect blame from his friend,” Muszynski said.
She further wrote that despite Samuel’s denial to the police officer that the bag was his and he didn’t know what was in it, he then tossed it over the balcony. She wrote this was “a bizarre act unless Mr. Samuel well knew what the bag contained.”
As for his Charter rights argument, Justice Muszynski agreed with the Crown’s assertaion that “Samuel lost his expectation of privacy over the toiletry bag of drugs when he threw it off the balcony and onto the public street.”
As for an illegal entry into Samuel’s hotel room, “the police officers testified that, when responding to domestic violence calls, it was their practice to interview the involved parties separately. This general practice, in and of itself, would be insufficient to justify a warrantless entry into Room 808,” she noted.
However, in this case, there is no evidence that the police were acting in bad faith, but indeed, the opposite. The police officers had a master key that could unlock any hotel room, but they did not use it. Instead, the police executed a proper “knock and announce” approach, and waited for some time” for the occupants to answer the door.
Justice Muszynski also noted police had “reasonable suspicion”, based on both the demeanour of the woman who answered the door, and from the initial complaint from the neighbouring room, that they were needed to assist a “victim of violence at the hands of the male occupant of Room 808.” The police entry into the room was far from groundless.
The judge gave a lengthy explanation of Samuel’s application for a mistrial, writing, “To be successful on the mistrial application, Mr. Samuel must prove… that I have demonstrated a reasonable apprehension of bias… I did not make any comments about the evidence at trial, I did not direct counsel to attend before a fellow justice, nor did I initiate chambers discussion with counsel, or negotiate a resolution… Rather, I took proactive steps to… manage the conduct of the trial… A reasonable observer… would not conclude that the trial judge appeared to have arrived at some pre-judgment of the case.”
With this, Samuel’s application for a mistrial was dismissed.
“Given the admissions made previously and having found that Mr. Samuel did indeed possess the toiletry bag of fentanyl and cocaine, fully knowing its contents, before he threw it to the street, I find Mr. Samuel guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of possessing cocaine and fentanyl for the purpose of trafficking.”
She also found him guilty of obstruction of a police officer and of trespassing, based on his actions of jumping to the balcony of room 809 and lying to the officer.