While evidence in a trial against the president of the Tribesmen motorcycle gang might “seem like an episode of CSI”, the jury would soon wish they had changed channels, a defence lawyer has said.
Monday was the first day of Elder Browne’s jury trial in the Christchurch District Court on charges of possession of methamphetamine for supply, possession of LSD, possession of forged banknotes, and failing to carry out obligations in relation to a computer search.
Browne has pleaded not guilty to all the charges.
In his opening statement, Crown prosecutor Mitchell McClenaghan set out how Browne’s arrest came as a result of an operation during which police officers covertly observed his movements and used a tracking device to monitor his vehicle.
McClenaghan said police had already investigated Browne in 2019 as part of a police operation into suspected drug dealing within the ranks of the Tribesmen gang. While Browne was not charged as a result of that operation, two of his associates were arrested on methamphetamine charges.
In July last year, police launched a follow-up investigation into Browne’s activities.
From July 17 until July 29, police undertook surveillance operations to monitor Browne’s comings and goings.
When Browne and an associate visited the Westfield Riccarton shopping centre around lunchtime on July 29, police swooped in to arrest them both and seize Browne’s vehicle.
McClenaghan told the jury $15,000 worth of methamphetamine was found in a plastic bag hidden behind the petrol flap, while three LSD tablets were found in the compartment on the driver’s door.
In the central console of the car police found cell phones and cash, and in a dashboard compartment, they discovered 14 forged $50 notes.
Browne also had rubber gloves in his possession.
When police executed a search warrant at the home where Browne stayed, they found more “items of interest” including more than $2000 in cash, rubber gloves, rubber bands and an electronic scale.
Browne’s lawyer, Tudor Clee, said the only reason his client was on trial was because he had borrowed a mate’s car.
He told the jury while some of the evidence, such as Browne being secretly photographed by police and his car being tracked, might seem “like an episode of CSI” – the jury would soon realise the trial had no “gotcha moment” like in the American television drama centred around forensic investigators.
Clee said jurors would not hear any evidence linking Browne directly to the illicit drugs, such as fingerprints or DNA, nor evidence from anyone that had seen Browne touching those items.
“If this was an episode of CSI, and you sat for an hour without hearing any evidence that linked to the person charged, it may be that you wished you had switched channels and watched The Bachelor instead,” Clee said.
Constable Claire Bennison testified that when Browne was asked to provide the PIN of his cellphone to police, he claimed not to know the PIN because someone else had helped him set up his phone. Bennison acknowledged that Browne had offered to open the phone using his thumbprint, but said this was not useful to police as they would not be able to access the phone again once it automatically locked.
During cross-examination of another witness, Detective James Stent said there were no traces of drugs found on the surgical gloves in Browne’s possession.
“And would you accept those gloves were found in July 2020, when we were right in the middle of a global pandemic?” asked Clee. Stent agreed.
The trial will resume on Tuesday.
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