Too Drunk To Be Guilty Of A Hit And Run

The justice system is a complex balance between protecting the rights of citizens and accurate punishment violating those rights; maintaining this balance can be challenging and confusing such is the case of Trevor Clarke.

Trevor Clarke, a volunteer firefighter was convicted last Monday of impaired driving causing bodily harm in a collision in the fall of 2012. The collision had left a cyclist in critical condition and stranded on the side of the road.  Clarke’s blood-alcohol level was four times the legal limit during the accident.  He had hit a cyclist with the left side mirror of his car which fell off due to the impact.

The 45 year old nurse who was hit was left with head injuries and cannot recall the accident.  The nurse suffered from traumatic brain injuries and continues to struggle physically and emotionally.  However, Clarke will not receive punishment to the full extent of the law. Why?

Justice David Paciocco ruled that Clarke was too drunk to know that he had hit anyone.  Legally speaking, a criminal act requires two components actus reus and mens rea.  Actus reus is the guilty act and mens rea is the guilty mind (intention to commit the act). Since Clarke had drank beyond the legal limit for driving he was convicted for impaired driving causing bodily harm.  However, Clarke could not form intent to hit a person driving on the road due to his level of intoxication. Furthermore, Clarke was not aware that he had hit someone as a result of his excessive intoxication level and hence could not be found guilty of the failing to stop offence.

Charter Violations

Clarke was also found not guilty of driving with a blood-alcohol level over .08% causing bodily harm. Although it was evident that Clarke had exceeded the blood-alcohol level for driving he could not be convicted as the officers had violated his Charter rights; Clarke was not fully informed about his drunk-driving arrest.

Furthermore, Clarke’s rights to council were violated again as the officers did not inform Clarke of his right to a lawyer when detained. The police had begun questioning Clarke before he had access to a lawyer which made the conversation inadmissible.  The officers also failed to take notes during the conversation and could not completely recall the conversation in court.

A constable also failed to inform Clarke’s lawyer that Clarke was a suspect in a hit and run case with serious injuries involved. These serious Charter violations resulted in a more lenient decision for Clarke.

The Challenge

In cases such as these, the breaches are too serious to ignore. Clarke was denied some of his fundamental rights; failing to acknowledge the breach of fundamental rights would bring the administration of justice into disrepute.  If this case were to proceed without acknowledging the violation of rights, it would enforce the idea of tyranny.  Law enforcers could then violate the rights of the public to establish a case without honoring their rights. This would result re-examination of countless precedents and challenging our fundamental rights as Canadians. Thus, the legal system is far more complex than just the courts, it involves the proper execution of procedures on all levels to achieve justice.

Points of Discussion

  1. Has this post helped you to better understand the criminal justice system? If so, how?
  2. How do you feel about the decision after reading this article?

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