We usually think that penalties for drunk driving should correspond to the severity of the offence. As The Mikado states it in Gilbert and Sullivan’s comedy:
My object all sublime
I shall achieve in time —
To let the punishment fit the crime ”
In Canada the law generally determines the degree of the infraction through three factors
- First, second, third or subsequent offence
- Degree of intoxication
- Aggravating factors such as causing bodily harm and driving while under suspension
Recently the Supreme Court of Canada decided that another factor can be considered: location. Specifically, if drunk driving is prevalent in a particular region, a judge can pass more severe sentences.
The original case concerned a drunk driver in Quebec who caused the deaths of two passengers. The judge sentenced the offender to a six year prison term and an eleven year driving prohibition. On appeal, both terms were reduced to four years, on the grounds that the original sentences fell outside the guidelines that were in place for judges.
In the judgment, R. v. Lacasse, the Supreme Court of Canada decided that a judge could indeed “consider frequency of impaired driving in region where offence was committed as relevant sentencing factor.”
The Court noted that drunk driving was a serious problem in Beauce, where the deaths occurred. A stiff sentence was needed to deter others and send the message that impaired driving would not be tolerated.
…the mere fact that the trial judge found that impaired driving is a scourge in the Beauce district was in itself sufficient for him to consider this factor in determining … a just and appropriate sentence. ”
What does this mean? Perhaps we’ll be seeing more jail time for drunk drivers in areas where people flout impaired driving laws with more regularlity, such as Saskatchewan and the northern territories. It probably won’t make a vast difference, but it might allow judges to make examples of egregious DUI offenders on occasion.