Written By: Patrick Brown and Ryan Marinacci, Law Student
Several recent and devastating hit and runs continue to receive widespread media attention, including the death of a 50-year old cyclist in Markham, and the death of a teenager and severe injury of a young woman in North York.
When a defendant flees the scene of a collision after hitting someone, the victims of these senseless acts and their families are left with little recourse until the suspect is caught. When investigators are able to track down, apprehend and charge these individuals, victims and family members are forced to relive the traumatic events through the criminal proceedings.
To make matters worse still, where an individual is ultimately convicted, there is wide discretion in the sentences that can be imposed, and no guarantee that the perpetrator will even face imprisonment. Indeed, the only minimum sentence for these life-shattering offences is a $1,000 fine under the Criminal Code, and a $400 fine under the Highway Traffic Act.
These are some of the immensely discretionary sentences that can be imposed for failing to stop after a crash under the Criminal Code.
Where an individual fails to remain at the scene of a crash contrary to s. 320.16(1), there is no minimum sentence whatsoever, and the maximum possible sentence is 10 years imprisonment (s. 320.19(5)).
Where an individual fails to remain at the scene of a crash resulting in bodily harm contrary to s. 320.16(2), the only minimum sentence is a $1,000 fine, and the maximum possible sentence is 14 years imprisonment (s. 320.2)).
Likewise, an individual who fails to remain at the scene of a crash resulting in death contrary to s. 320.16(3) is still subject only to a minimum $1,000 fine, and maximum possible sentence of life imprisonment.
Troublingly, the minimum sentences for these offences is identical to the one imposed for driving while impaired where there is no collision or injuries involved. An individual convicted of operating a vehicle while impaired by drugs or alcohol contrary to s. 320.14(1) is subject to minimum $1,000 fine, up to a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment (s. 320.19(1)).
This means that where a driver is convicted for making the conscious decision to flee the scene after striking and killing someone, or causing life threatening injuries, that driver may be subject to a same or lesser sentence than a driver convicted of drunk driving where there is no collision involved.
Even more discouraging is the sentence imposed under the Highway Traffic Act where investigators lay charges under that Act, as opposed to the Criminal Code. An individual who fails to remain at the scene of a crash contrary to s. 200(1) is subject only to a minimum fine of $400, and a maximum possible sentence of six months imprisonment (s. 200(2)).
Suffice to say that all hit and runs where injury or death occur ought to be the subject of criminal charges. And even then, it should not be possible under the Criminal Code for penalties to be less severe for hit and runs involving serious injury or death than those for drunk driving where no collision is involved. But this continues to be the case. More must be done to ensure that drivers remain at the scene after crashes, and the mandatory minimums for those who make the decision to flee must be significantly increased as a measure of deterrence.