Supreme Court

Criminal Law

Sentencing procedure and principles

Principles of sentencing

Court erred in holding that vigilante violence inflicted on accused could not be considered in sentencing

Accused drove his vehicle onto restaurant patio, killing two-year-old child. Police demanded breath sample after accident but accused refused. Accused was later abducted by vigilantes who cut off his thumb with pruning shears for his role in child’s death. Accused eventually pleaded guilty to refusing to provide breath sample after causing accident resulting in death. Sentencing judge imposed 4-month sentence of imprisonment coupled with 30-month driving prohibition. Court of Appeal allowed Crown appeal from sentence and increased custodial portion of it to 26 months. Accused appealed sentence with Supreme Court of Canada. Appeal allowed in part, and sentence of 26 months’ imprisonment imposed by Court of Appeal replaced with one of time served. Both sentencing judge and Court of Appeal committed errors in principle in arriving at sentences they imposed and errors resulted in imposition of unfit sentences. Court of Appeal erred when it recast circumstances of accident and effectively sentenced accused for uncharged offence of careless driving or dangerous driving causing death, and when it held that vigilante violence inflicted on accused could not be considered when crafting appropriate sentence. Sentencing judge erred in finding that accused was acting under mistake of law when he refused to provide breath sample and that this factor fundamentally changed his moral culpability.

R. v. Suter (2018), 2018 CarswellAlta 1266, 2018 CarswellAlta 1267, 2018 SCC 34, 2018 CSC 34, Abella J., Moldaver J., Karakatsanis J., Wagner J., Gascon J., Côté J., and Rowe J. (S.C.C.); reversed (2016), 2016 CarswellAlta 1461, 2016 ABCA 235, Jack Watson J.A., Myra Bielby J.A., and Frederica Schutz J.A. (Alta. C.A.).

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