Jul 12, 2018 - THE MUZZO EFFECT: FIRST-TIME OFFENDERS WHO DRIVE DRUNK NOW GOING TO JAIL


Muzzo got 10 years for Vaughan crash that killed three kids and grandfather


 

Pictured above are Daniel Neville-Lake, 9 (right) and siblings Harrison, 5 (left), Milly, 2 (centre, killed in September 2015, along with their 65-year-old grandfather Gary Neville, when a car driven by now convicted drunk driver Marco Muzzo crashed into their van on a Vaughan road.


What do we do with first-time offenders who drive drunk, but don’t cause injury?

Like it or not, much of Canadian law works based on the outcome of the crime, not the potential consequence.

So in the past, first-time offenders have often ended up with the standard 12-month driving ban and $1,000 fine for getting caught behind the wheel with blood alcohol levels over the legal limit of 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood (0.08 mgs/100 mL) unless they seriously injure or kill someone.

Yet now, more than two years since Marco Muzzo received a 10-year prison sentence for driving drunk when he killed three children and their grandfather on a Vaughan road, the pendulum appears to be swinging.

Muzzo, who received the harshest sentence in Canadian history for an impaired driver without a prior record, registered a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 245 mgs/100 mL (the range where falling into a coma is possible).

Some recent cases show that Crowns in Newmarket court are seeking and justices are now handing down jail terms for first-time offenders whose impaired operation of a motor vehicle did not result in any serious injuries or deaths.

Newmarket courts have been ground zero in four precedent-making cases over the past year.

Chirag Patel, a father with no record and “real prospects” for good employment, according to court documents, was driving his elderly parents to a restaurant when he passed out mid trip, the car eventually coming to a stop. He blew 375 mgs/100 mL.

Justice David Rose sentenced Patel to 45-days in jail and a two-year driving ban.

Rose wrote in his sentencing of Patel, there had been a roughly one-third increase in the number of impaired driving cases received in the Newmarket courthouse between 2012, when there were 833 cases, and 2016, when there was 1,100.

“The decision to incarcerate a first offender must not be taken lightly,” he wrote. “The crown argues that there is an impaired driving problem in York Region which is getting worse. I agree. As (Justice Michelle) Fuerst said in R v Muzzo "the message that every drinking driver is a potential killer of innocent members of the community continues to go unheeded’.”

Head of York Region’s Crown office, Paul Tait, reinforced the point, saying that if his Crowns go through a trial and there are aggravating circumstances, including high-blood alcohol beginning around 180 mgs/100 mL or impaired drivers have children in the car, a jail sentence will be sought.

“There seems to be no end to the number of drunk driving charges,” he told yorkregion.com. “So, what else can you do for a deterrent message for people? To start getting jail for a first offender, that’s a new threshold. There’s a strong connection to Muzzo.”

In 2016 Vaughan’s Ksenia Titova drove drunk, swerving “all over the road” before she hit a car full of four people, including a three-year-old child, stopped at a red light.

The collision pushed the car some 15-feet into the middle of the intersection. No one was seriously injured.

Titova, a university-educated and gainfully employed 27-year-old with no criminal record, was also a troubled alcoholic and blew 206 mgs/100 mL that night, the court heard.

After going to great lengths to avoid jail, attending psychological counselling and making “significant effort” to get sober, Justice Joseph Kenkel, who felt a custodial sentence would have been “required” in this case, relented and gave Titova a conditional sentence that kept the young woman out of jail.

Others have not been so lucky.

Parthipan Sivanadi, who was described in court as a “productive member of society” and the sole provider for his family, drove with his two children, two and four years old, along with his wife in the car while drunk. He blew 190 mgs/100 mL that day.

Sivanadi appealed the 30-day sentence he received, but it was upheld by Justice Chris de Sa, in part because of the aggravating circumstances involving driving drunk with his children as passengers.

Finally, Brandon Greavette, 26, crashed into a sedan carrying three people before hitting a light standard and another car at the Riverside Inn, in Bracebridge. Despite having no criminal record, holding a well-paying job and the Newmarket Crown seeking only a fine and probation, Justice David Rose handed him a 30-day jail sentence.

Prior to these sentences there has rarely, if ever, been a jail sentence in Canada for a first-time impaired driver whose actions did not result in someone's death.

Anecdotally, Tait suspects the new benchmark has already resulted in a small number of guilty pleas, offenders presumably worried of the sentence they might receive if they elect to go to trial and lose.

“If you run a trial you lose the benefit of a guilty plea,” he added, explaining that every guilty plea saves the court's time, specifically the two to four days it takes to conduct a trial.

But does the new approach make sense?

Many in the public will applaud the measures as punishment for a crime that can and does kill innocent people.

Yet, others insist that if jail terms are to act as a deterrent, the strategy quite simply won’t work.

Defence lawyer Peter Lindsay, who has been specializing in impaired driving in Newmarket for decades, argues the penalties against impaired drivers are already quite severe, including — fines often between $1,500 and $2,000, a 30 per cent surcharge on top of that, a criminal record, a loss of drivers licence at a minimum for six months, an interlock system for their cars worth $1,700 and higher car insurance rates, as much as $10,000 for three years, following a conviction.

“The motives are good, we all want to deter (impaired driving). It’s reckless, awful and dangerous,” he said. “But the reality is those drinking in a bar before deciding to drive aren’t thinking about consequences.”

Dom Manzo, a criminal lawyer in Newmarket, believes the jail terms for first-offenders is a step in the right direction, showing everyone just how dangerous the courts consider drinking and driving.

“Impaired driving is a serious problem that causes a lot of death and heartache,” he said. “Stricter sentences don’t always result in lowering offences, but it’s one of the tools the court has available to them to send a message.”

He admits he’s already had clients reconsider their options based on the new realities in the judicial system.

“Whereas in the past, when a jail sentence was unlikely, a lot of people would roll the dice and go to trial,” he said. “Now they may decide not to take the chance and take a plea.”

Source: York Region


 

Last updated on: 2018-09-22 | Link to this post