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Editorial: Three strikes

Impaired driving
What can be done that will be effective in stopping people from drinking and driving? — Randi Scott photo

If there’s anyone who should understand the concept of legal consequences, you’d think it would be a prominent criminal lawyer.

But there are those among us who appear to be frighteningly slow learners.

Wednesday morning, lawyer Jeff Brace was in a St. John’s courtroom to be sentenced for his third drunk-driving conviction.

Brace was first convicted of impaired driving in 1997. In 2011, he was charged again following a downtown St. John’s motorcycle crash that left him badly injured. The charge he was sentenced for on Wednesday was laid after an RNC officer saw Brace’s motorcycle tipping sideways while stopped at a Kenmount Road traffic light on Sept. 5, 2016.

“I’m not looking for pity, I don’t deserve it, quite frankly,” Brace said to the judge. “I’d like to apologize for my stupidity.”

When it happens once, you might be able to swallow hard and say the person involved just made a bad decision. But three times is so much of a pattern that you have to start asking other questions.

He was sentenced to 75 days in jail, three years of probation and a three-year driving ban.

When it happens once, you might be able to swallow hard and say the person involved just made a bad decision. But three times is so much of a pattern that you have to start asking other questions. You might ask, is it that the person involved, when drunk, loses all sense of judgment?

You might also ask whether, given that the pattern is established, how many other times did the person drive drunk and simply not get caught?

It would not be unreasonable to ask, “How long is it going to be before this person kills or injures someone else?”

One of the main principles of criminal sentencing is deterrence — when a sentence is handed down, it’s supposed to specifically deter the offender from committing a similar crime. It’s supposed to be harsh enough that the offender gains a clear knowledge of the consequences of their actions.

It’s also supposed to create general deterrence. In other words, it’s supposed to deter others in the general community from committing the same offence.

But what can you do when someone simply won’t be deterred?

Brace is far from alone in this province when it comes to multiple drinking and driving offences. Perhaps they are people who are profoundly different when they are impaired than they are when they are sober. Perhaps drinking makes them lose the essential tools that let them recognize how dangerous their behaviour is.

But that brings to the fore another aspect of the application of the law, and that’s the protection of the public.

Ordinary citizens have a right to go about their daily affairs without the threat of being injured or killed by the actions of an impaired driver. When someone is convicted three times of impaired driving, that’s a minimum — a bare minimum — of three times that something far more tragic could have occurred.

How, in the end, do we find a deterrent that works?

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