Marco Muzzo

The judge tasked with sentencing a man who has pleaded guilty to a drunk driving crash that killed three young children and their grandfather faces a daunting challenge, according to a local criminal lawyer.

Marco Muzzo likely faces years behind bars, but arriving at the appropriate sentence requires consideration of factors beyond the desire of some observers for harsh punishment, said Oshawa criminal lawyer Bernie O’Brien.

“This is going to be a very difficult one,” Mr. O’Brien said. “The basic principle involved in a case in which death ensues is not retribution; it is denunciation. So the public knows: if you commit an offence like this, the penalty is severe.”

Mr. Muzzo, 29, pleaded guilty earlier this month to impaired driving causing death in relation to a crash last September in York Region that killed siblings Harrison, Milly and Daniel Neville-Lake and their grandfather Gary Neville. Justice Michelle Fuerst will hear submissions on sentencing Feb. 23.

In crafting the sentence, the judge will consider the horrific outcome of the crash and Mr. Muzzo’s culpability. Rulings from similar cases will be available as a guide, but there’s no definitive template to follow, Mr. O’Brien said.

“Each individual is sentenced as an individual,” he said.

The circumstances of the Muzzo case are particularly vexing: On the morning of the fatal crash, the 29-year-old Mr. Muzzo, a member of a wealthy family, with a fondness for sports cars, had landed at Pearson airport on a private jet from Miami and was well over the legal limit for impairment when his SUV sailed through a stop sign and collided with a van carrying the victims.

“The optics in this case, I don’t think they could get much worse,” Mr. O’Brien said.

That said, there are mitigating factors for the judge to consider: Mr. Muzzo is a first-time offender with no criminal record. He has admitted his guilt; his lawyer has expressed the remorse his client feels. And when the sentencing hearing occurs, Mr. Muzzo will be given the opportunity to say as much himself.

Those words will likely be countered by victim impact statements from the devastated family, notably Jennifer Neville-Lake, the mother of the children who also lost her father in the crash. Ms. Neville-Lake has spoken eloquently in the past of the horror and heartbreak she and her husband have endured, and her views will likely factor into the judge’s considerations, Mr. O’Brien said.

Mr. Muzzo could have spent some of his family’s considerable resources fighting the charges by challenging evidence gathered by the police, but that’s getting tougher to do as investigative techniques improve, Mr. O’Brien said. Typically when a case like this gets to the courtroom, prosecutors are armed with compelling evidence of guilt, and it is difficult to mount effective challenges.

“They do a tremendous job in this day and age,” he said. “”The general level of investigations has picked up; the quality has been exponentially greater over the years. These cases are difficult to defend, and so they should be. Society demands that.”

Past cases show prison term likely for drunk driving causing death

Charges of impaired driving causing death typically result in penitentiary terms, as a sample of some recent high-profile cases shows.

• Last October, Sabastion Prosa, 22, was sentenced to five years in prison for a crash that killed a man and his daughter in Toronto. Mr. Prosa was drunk and driving the wrong way on the QEW when the crash occurred in August 2012.

• In 2009, Matthew Junkert was sentenced to five years for killing a jogger while driving drunk in Richmond Hill. He appealed, but his sentence was upheld.

• Andrew Kummer was speeding and had twice the legal limit of alcohol in his blood when he crashed his pickup in London in 2009, killing three people. His eight-year penitentiary term was upheld by the Ontario Court of Appeal in 2010.

• In 2009, a judge in Quebec sentenced Roger Walsh, who had 19 previous drunk driving convictions, to life in prison for an impaired crash that killed a woman in a wheelchair.

• In 2008, a judge in Alberta declined to declare Charles Yellowknee, who was drunk when he killed a woman and her three daughters in a crash, a dangerous offender, instead sentencing him to 10 years.

• In 2009, a judge sentenced Michael Holliday of Bowmanville to three and a half years in prison for a drunk driving crash in Oshawa that killed Pat Gostlin, a well-known teacher who also ran as a Green Party candidate.

• Christopher Dubreuil, 29, of Cobourg was sentenced to four years in prison for killing a 23-year-old woman while speeding and driving impaired on Rama Road in Orillia in 2011.

Source: Durham Region


Last updated on: 2016-02-19 | Link to this post