13 June 2009

The drunk driving sentence that never was

Local media outlets reported on Friday that a man had been sentenced in Grand bank to two years in jail and the loss of his driving license for 99 years.

cbc.ca/nl carried it and the thing has garnered a huge number of comments. Ditto the Telegram although there are only 14 comments there. It made the voice of the cabinet minister as well.

Courtesy of Canadian Press the story went national and turned up in at least one newspaper, the Edmonton Sun.

The thing is online as well a liveleak.com and a local Edmonton bulletin board/forum.

Wonderful story.

Except for one small problem:  it isn’t entirely accurate.

Your humble e-scribbler thought the story sounded suspicious since the sentence of 99 years sounded a bit American.

An inquiry turned up the full details and another inquiry turned up the news release issued by the Burin district office of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that started the thing.

Here’s the release:

Impaired driver receives 2 year prison sentence and prohibited from driving for 99 years

On Thursday, June 11th, 2009 a 47 year old Burin man received a two year prison sentence and is prohibited from driving for 99 years as a result of an incident that was investigated by the Burin Peninsula District RCMP in the community of Burin on Wednesday, June 10th, 2009.


For further information please contact the undersigned, …

Okay, for starters, the release should have ended with –30-, if anything, not –34- but that’s neither here nor there for our purposes.

News media can’t be faulted for taking what they were given by an official source and using it.

So here’s the fuller and more accurate story.

The RCMP arrested the fellow on Wednesday after receiving a call about an impaired driver.  They managed to nab him fairly quickly  - after a brief chase - and he appeared in court on Thursday.

As it turned out he had five prior convictions for impaired driving and in the most recent one had been sentenced in Nova Scotia provincial court in Cape Breton to a 10 year suspension of his driving privileges.  He was charged in Grand Bank with impaired driving, refusing the breathalyser and driving while prohibited.

In the jigs and the reels of it all, the Crown and defence counsels worked out a plea agreement by which the fellow received two years in jail and a lifetime prohibition from driving. The whole thing – from offence to arrest to conviction  - took less than 24 hours. That, plus the back story are way better than what actually hit the news, at least it’s way better in the opinion of your humble e-scribbler.

So where’d the “99” thing come from?

Certainly not from anyone in the court room, as it turned out.

The form used by the court staff to record this type of sentence gives space for two digits.  A five year suspension would be entered as “05” and a 10 year suspension would be “10” and so on.  Since there is no way numerically to figure out how long a life time suspension actually is, the court system codes a lifetime suspension as “99”, that being the largest two digit number there is and one that wouldn’t be confused with anything else. 99 is the max under the coding system and lifetime is the max under the legal system.

Pretty simple.

But someone reading the court form only and who  - as it turns out – was not familiar with the coding system dutifully bashed out a short news release that included the sentence as being two years in jail plus a 99 year suspended license. 

He also apparently didn’t have time to get the more complete story.  That said, the story as presented is rightfully garnering praise for the police and the court from the people making comments on the CBC and Telegram stories.