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Is it time for mandatory minimum sentences for drunk driving offences that take human lives?

Seeing someone sentenced to under 10 years in prison for taking a life is, for a lot of people, a difficult thing to accept. But according to the Criminal Code of Canada, this is perfectly legal in cases of impaired driving causing death.

Steven Theriault received 6.5 years for crashing his car while impaired,
killing one passenger and wounding two others, before hitchhiking back
into town.

He has a rap sheet 30 criminal convictions deep; two of which were for
dangerous driving.

The judiciary branch of the government is one of the most commonly
misunderstood branches of our society. It’s been overheard to be
referred to as the “injustice” system in at least one courthouse hallway.

Judges apply a number of factors when coming up with appropriate
sentencing for those convicted of violent crimes. While victim-impact
statements are weighed in, they are one factor among many. It depends on
the crime, whether the person has previous convictions, whether or not
socio-economic factors beyond their control contributed to the crime,
the cost of life, likelihood to re-offend, whether the person feels
remorse… and the list goes on.

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The man convicted of killing one and seriously injuring two others,
didn’t even stop to call 911 before he fled the scene – leaving them to die.

The inebriated operator was clocked at 195 km per hour just before the
crash. He clearly has no regard for life other than his own.

Though the maximum sentence for impaired driving causing death is life
in prison, the convicted man was sentenced to just six and a half years
– he’ll serve just four years and three months, taking time-served into
account. He’s also barred from ever operating a motor vehicle.

While barring him for life from operating a motor vehicle seems a
severe, though just, punishment, what’s stopping him from getting behind
the wheel of a friend’s car? Or a stranger’s? At the time of the deadly
collision he didn’t have a valid driver’s license. Does this sound like
someone who would respect a license suspension?

Meanwhile, a 21-year-old woman is dead and her five-year-old son has to
grow up without his mom. Another young woman faces extensive physical
rehabilitation to regain her mobility. It’s hard to see the justice in that.

But that’s just it – it’s a legal system, not a justice system.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) – an advocacy organization committed to ending impaired driving – posted about issues with sentencing on their website.

“Since these offences carry no minimum sentence, and a maximum of life and 10 years imprisonment respectively, they provide judges with potentially sweeping flexibility in both the type of sentence imposed and the length of any prison term.

“Although trial judges are subject to the general sentencing guidelines established by their provincial appeal court, they retain broad discretion.”

Maximum penalties for impaired driving offences were increased in 1985, 1999, 2000, and 2008. These measures have major political appeal as the government can ingratiate themselves to voters by showing they’re taking a tough stand on impaired driving.

According to a study published in 2015 by two law professors at Western University, some judges have also justified more lenient sentences for offenders who plead guilty on the grounds that guilty pleas reduce demands on prosecutorial and judicial resources.

That means, a judge may take time off the sentence of a guilty offender, just because they took up less of the court’s time.

Does that sound like justice? Certainly not – but it’s legal.

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