When I first heard that Richard Suter, the man charged with impaired driving causing the death of two-year-old Geo Mounsef, was instead pleading guilty to failing to provide a breath sample, I felt outraged. The plea agreement seemed to minimize the tragedy of a death that rocked this city like few others.

On May 19, 2013, George Mounsef and Sage Morin and their two children were sitting on the outdoor patio at a Terwillegar restaurant. Suddenly, an Acura SUV crashed through the glass partition and across the deck, pinning the little boy, while horrified diners watched.

Here was a happy young family, celebrating al fresco on the deck of an upscale suburban steak house. They were in a space we think of as a safe haven. Instead, they were utterly vulnerable when that SUV crashed through their world and shattered it. It is that sense of violation that so inflamed community passions, and inspired a social media campaign demanding “Justice for Geo.”

Yet while Friday’s plea agreement may not look like the justice some demanded, it will offer Alberta’s courts their first real test of a new Canadian law, introduced in 2008 to crack down on alleged drunk drivers.

The Criminal Code amendment, part of the Harper government’s tough-on-crime agenda, makes failure to provide a breath sample after being in the care or control of a motor vehicle that caused the death of another person a far more serious crime than refusing a roadside breathalyzer.

This new charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison, with no chance of parole for seven years.

In fact, the penalties for failing to provide a breath or blood sample in such circumstances are now exactly the same as the penalties for impaired driving causing death.

For the Crown, though, this is a far easier case to make. The Crown doesn’t need to prove a driver was impaired. The Crown doesn’t need to prove the driver was negligent or driving without care and attention.

It only needs to prove a police officer had reasonable grounds to demand a breath sample, and that the driver refused to provide one.

In essence, once you say no, you’ve essentially convicted yourself, whether you were impaired or not.

It’s the ultimate case of being damned if you do or damned if you don’t.

The plea agreement in the Suter case may not give people as much satisfaction as an outright impaired driving conviction, especially since Suter’s lawyer has never conceded his client was impaired.

But the end result will be roughly the same.

The sentencing hearing won’t take place until October. The Crown and defence will make their own sentencing recommendations. But it will be up to Alberta’s deputy chief provincial judge, Larry Anderson, to match the punishment to the crime.

It won’t be easy. The Crown and defence believe this is the first time in Alberta that anybody will have been sentenced simply for the crime of failing to provide a sample after a fatal accident.

While the maximum penalty is life in prison, there is no minimum.

The sentence could be a fine or house arrest. More likely, it could be somewhere between two and five years, about the same amount of time someone would get for pleading guilty to impaired driving causing death.

Source: Edmonton Journal


Last updated on: 2015-06-15 | Link to this post