4 lives, 10 years: Is Deterrence Working?
-By Sunny Gakhal-
On September 27, 2015, in Ontario, Canada, four individuals were killed and two were seriously injured by a drunk driver.
Marco Michael Muzzo was sentenced on six counts; count 1-4 of impaired driving causing death and count 13 and 14 to impaired driving causing bodily harm by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in a well-publicized case (R. v. Muzzo, 2016 ONSC 2068) (http://canlii.ca/t/gp2wp). With this decision come many questions, not the least of which is whether or not these sentences really deter drunk driving.
Justice Fuerst sentenced Mr. Muzzo to ten years in jail less credit equivalent to eight months of pre-sentence custody. In addition, Mr. Muzzo received an order prohibiting him from driving for twelve years.
The objectives of sentencing long recognized at common law have been codified in s. 718 of the Criminal Code of Canada, R.S.C., 1985, c. C-46. They are:
- the denunciation of unlawful conduct;
- deterrence both general and specific;
- the separation of the offender from society where necessary;
- reparation for harm done to the victims or the community; and
- promotion of a sense of responsibility in offenders and acknowledgement of the harm done.
Past British Columbia decisions have provided for a range of sentencing lengths in cases of impaired driving causing death. In R. v. Johnson (1996), 1996 CanLII 3148 (BC CA), 84 B.C.A.C. 261, the Court of Appeal accepted that the range of sentence for impaired driving causing death was between nine months and seven years, in R. v. Casimir, 2001 BCCA 310 (CanLII), Chief Justiec McEachern commented that the range was between three to six years, and in R. v. Smith, 2013 BCCA 173 (CanLII), the Court of Appeal stated that the range of sentence for impaired driving causing death was between eighteen months to eight years.
The Real Issue
Drunk-driving related car accidents and personal injuries are not at all uncommon in our society. And while we may only be aware of the tragic cases that cause injury or death, such cases suggest that drunk-driving takes place on a wider scale. This begs the question: Do the decisions adequately address the serious issue of deterrence; of deterring drinking and driving? Drunk-driving is generally highly publicized only when there is an associated tragedy. Should cases that do not result in death or injury be reported and well publicized as well? How can we stop impaired drivers before it is too late? Should our justice system focus on the sentencing of impaired drivers as its focal point for deterring similar wrongdoing amongst others?
“You can’t make someone think twice, when they never thought once. Drinking and driving is an inherently thoughtless act. The man who stumbles out of a bar drunk, car keys in hand, isn’t thinking about the last impaired driving sentence. Neither is the sober woman who pours her first of many glasses of wine without giving a thought to calling a cab.” (http://www.torontosun.com/2016/03/29/the-courtroom-math-behind-marco-muzzos-sentence )
Step back and take a moment to really understand the objectives of sentencing. Although no amount of jail time will ever bring back the 4 lives; will this sentence deter others from driving while impaired?