Death by Dan­ger­ous Driv­ing

The Star (St. Lucia) - - CRIME - By Lex Ne­gus

T he High Court Judg­ment of the case of the Queen (St.Lu­cia) v Caleb An­toine is now avail­able and we have the op­por­tu­nity to an­a­lyze the rea­son­ing of the Court in a mat­ter which has been the source of much con­tro­versy in our lit­tle is­land. Driv­ers ev­ery­where breathed a sigh of re­lief when they learnt that an­other man who pleaded guilty to a charge, the pun­ish­ment for which is “im­pris­on­ment not less than 5 years and not ex­ceed­ing 15 years”, es­caped hav­ing paid a mi­nus­cule EC$10,000 fine, de­spite killing one per­son and se­ri­ously in­jur­ing an­other.

The ob­jec­tive of this piece is not to crit­i­cize the po­lice, pros­e­cu­tion or the ju­di­ciary in an at­tempt to un­der­mine the state ma­chin­ery. The ob­jec­tive is to cause the ques­tion to be asked: What cir­cum­stances war­rant a jail term for dan­ger­ous driv­ing?

If you some­how man­aged to miss the fan­fare sur­round­ing this case, the facts in brief were that around 4:00 am on 8th Fe­bru­ary, 2014 Mr. An­toine was driv­ing his Subaru Legacy from the Legacy Night Club to his home in Cedar Heights when he lost con­trol of his ve­hi­cle, skid­ded across the road, crashed into a wall and then slammed into two pedes­tri­ans, one of whom was se­ri­ously in­jured and the other killed.

Mr. An­toine told the po­lice at the scene that he had con­sumed one Chair­man’s spiced rum and cran­berry juice prior (there is no in­di­ca­tion that he was made to submit to a blood test) and was driv­ing at 35-40 mph when the ac­ci­dent oc­curred. Weather and road con­di­tions were cited as con­tribut­ing fac­tors.

This state­ment be­comes a bit less be­liev­able when jux­ta­posed against the ev­i­dence gath­ered from the scene. Based on the mea­sure­ments taken at the ac­ci­dent spot, Mr. An­toine’s Subaru Legacy car trav­elled a dis­tance of 152 feet af­ter he lost con­trol of it. It then ran off and trav­elled a fur­ther 27 feet be­fore mak­ing im­pact with a wall. Af­ter hit­ting the wall, the ve­hi­cle again veered off hit­ting Oma­toya Olao­gun Mor­ri­son (the de­ceased) and his friend Manin­der Kaur.

Mr. An­toine was taken into cus­tody, and charged with (1) Caus­ing the Death of Oma­toya Olao­gun Mor­ri­son by dan­ger­ous driv­ing and; (2) Dan­ger­ous driv­ing, and placed on bail.

On 21st July, 2015 the Court con­sid­ered sub­mis­sions filed by both sides and gave a Max­i­mum Sen­tence In­di­ca­tion, ba­si­cally a pro­ce­dure which al­lows the Court to tell the de­fen­dant the sen­tence he would re­ceive if he pleaded guilty. The Judge in­di­cated that hav­ing re­gard to all of the cir­cum­stances it in­tended “to im­pose a sen­tence of a fine and/or a sus­pended sen­tence to­gether with re­me­dial or de­fen­sive driv­ing classes”.

The ques­tion on the mind of most Saint Lu­cians was: How could a man who ad­mits to killing some­one and se­ri­ously in­jur­ing an­other at 4:00 am af­ter con­sum­ing alcohol, be told to pay a fine?

In deter­min­ing whether to im­pose a cus­to­dial sen­tence the Court first looked at the case of cases of R v Wen­dell Var­lack and Robert Charles Cook­sley et al v R. Th­ese cases held that the first fac­tor to be con­sid­ered in matters of this na­ture was the of­fender’s level of cul­pa­bil­ity. This should be bal­anced against the harm or risk caused by the of­fence.

It was the find­ing of the Court that hav­ing re­gard to the above men­tioned facts, Mr. An­toine had a low level of cul­pa­bil­ity. The learned judge in her rul­ing also quoted a num­ber of de­cided cases which caused sim­i­lar so­cial up­heaval within Saint Lu­cia at their re­spec­tive times. Among the cases, the one which stood out as the clos­est to the present case on the facts was the case of R v Jesse Charles SLUCRD2009/2008.

On Jan­uary 10th, 2009 Jesse Charles left the Up­per Level Night Club af­ter 3:00 am, fell asleep at the wheel and col­lided with a wall in La Toc caus­ing the death of his friend who was in the pas­sen­ger’s seat. He pleaded guilty and was sen­tenced to a fine of EC$10,000, in de­fault to serve three years and to be dis­qual­i­fied from hold­ing a driver’s li­cense for a pe­riod of five years. The sole ag­gra­vat­ing fac­tor was that he fell asleep at the wheel. The facts of the present case are more se­ri­ous than that of the case of Jesse Charles; how­ever, Mr. An­toine has re­ceived a lesser sen­tence than Mr. Charles.

Hav­ing re­gard to the cases ex­tracted from the judg­ment it would sug­gest that the proper sen­tence to be im­posed on some­one leav­ing a night club in the early hours of the morn­ing, hav­ing con­sumed alcohol, and who was (ar­guably) speed­ing (al­though this was not a find­ing of the Court), should have been a jail sen­tence. It is nec­es­sary for so­ci­ety to show its ab­hor­rence in cir­cum­stances where life is lost as a result of dan­ger­ous driv­ing.

The com­plete judg­ment of the Honourable Jus­tice V. Ge­or­gis Tay­lorAlexan­der in the mat­ter of the Queen v Caleb Eli­jah An­toine is avail­able at: www.ec­courts.org/queen-v-cale­be­li­jah-an­toine.

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