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Appeals court rules Sudbury judge was wrong to reject joint sentencing in impaired driving case

A judge in Sudbury was wrong to reject a joint sentence submission in an impaired driving case, an appeals court has ruled. (File) A judge in Sudbury was wrong to reject a joint sentence submission in an impaired driving case, an appeals court has ruled. (File)
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A judge in Sudbury was wrong to reject a joint sentence submission in an impaired driving case, an appeals court has ruled.

The woman pled guilty in January and the Crown and defence agreed on a sentence: a $2,000 fine and a 12-month driving prohibition.

Court was told that in December 2023, the woman struck a median on Barrydowne Road. Police found her sitting in the driver’s seat in a nearby driveway.

She appeared visibly intoxicated and breath tests later revealed her blood alcohol concentration was between “220-230 milligrams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood,” the appeals court decision said.

At trial, the defendant admitted guilt, apologized to the court and said she “was prepared to abide by any order that the court made.”

“The court was advised that there had been discussions about the case between the Crown and the defence,” the decision said.

“As part of the plea and sentencing, the Crown conceded that there were triable issues had the matter gone to trial.”

But the trial judge didn’t approve of the light sentence, considering there had been an accident and the accused was highly intoxicated.

“The trial judge expressed his opinion that these aggravating factors called for a term of imprisonment,” the decision said.

“The trial judge then asked counsel for further submissions with respect to whether the court should impose a term of counselling as part of probation, given that the parties were not submitting that a jail sentence be imposed.”

Possible Charter issues

The defence argued that the accused made an early guilty plea and by accepting the sentence, was forgoing the chance to make Charter applications on at least two issues.

The defence also argued that “the appellant was a young professional who would be significantly hampered in her profession because of the criminal conviction.”

To try and address the judge’s concerns, the defence agreed to add six months of probation with counselling. But the judge rejected that and said that in cases where “the sentence is so unfit that it brought the administration of justice into disrepute, that he did not have to accept the joint submission.”

So he imposed six months of house arrest in addition to the 12-month driving ban.

Into disrepute

In its decision, the appeals court said that joint submissions should only be rejected when they clearly bring the justice system into “disrepute or is otherwise not in the public interest.”

In general, the court said joint submissions are a vital part of the legal system, saving time, resources and expenses that can go to other cases.

“To the extent that they avoid trials, joint submissions on sentence permit our justice system to function more efficiently,” the appeals judge wrote.

“Indeed, I would argue that they permit it to function. Without them, our justice system would be brought to its knees, and eventually collapse under its own weight.”

In this case, the court said the mitigating factors meant the joint submission wasn’t so “unhinged from reality” that it had to be rejected.

The court summed up the mitigating factors this way: “An early plea, a plea in the face of what both the Crown and defence agreed that were triable issues; a youthful offender with no prior criminal record; a genuine expression of remorse; the appellant’s unique personal circumstances including her health challenges; and the specific impact that a criminal record would have on the appellant given her profession.”

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While the trial judge clearly was unhappy with the proposed sentence, he didn’t give reasons why the joint submission was so outrageous, it had to be rejected.

“In my view, there was no basis to reject the joint submission proposed,” the judge wrote.

“A reasonable informed member of the public, aware of all of the circumstances … would not conclude that the justice system had broken down.”

As a result, the court rejected the trial judge’s decision and reinstated the joint submission.  

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