Welcome to my Crime and Justice blog! I am a 19 year old criminal justice student at the University of Winnipeg. I advocate for prisoners' rights, human rights, equality and criminal justice/prison system reforms.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Chronic drunk driver gets 8 months in prison-- has been battling alcohol addiction

A Manitoba judge had some chilling words Tuesday for a chronic drunk driver she sentenced to eight months in prison after briefly considering a much longer period behind bars.
"I’m going to wonder for some time if I’ve given you the opportunity to go kill someone," Queen’s Bench Justice Colleen Suche said in setting aside her concerns and agreeing to a joint-recommendation from Crown and defence lawyers. She noted the Manitoba Court of Appeal has strict guidelines on when a judge can override plea bargains struck by experienced counsel.

Ivan Popovic, 43, pleaded guilty to driving his car at more than triple the legal limit for an incident that dates back to July 2006 and has been dragging through the courts. Several motorists called 911 to report a vehicle travelling the wrong way down a single-lane Manitoba highway just north of Powerview. RCMP arrived to find Popovic had crashed into a ditch and was staggering near the scene. His speech was slurred, eyes bloodshot and police had to help prop him up to walk to his cruiser.
"We’re quite concerned a man who couldn’t even walk was behind the wheel," Crown attorney Debbie Buors told court. Police also found two bags of marijuana hidden inside his vehicle.

Popovic has three prior drunk driving convictions, along with three other incidents of driving while disqualified. He has battled alcohol addiction for years with little success, despite numerous attempts at court-ordered treatment and programming. His last impaired conviction in 2005 led to a five-month jail term.

"Without treatment he’s a menace to society. You’re just a walking time bomb," Suche said. "It’s one thing to take yourself out. It’s another to take others out. You may as well be walking around with a loaded gun."
Suche was considering a sentence of two years in federal prison for Popovic, which she said would give him access to much better treatment options than what a provincial jail would offer.
"I’m very concerned he needs major treatment. I’m concerned eight months in Headingley isn’t sufficient to address those concerns," said Suche.

Defence lawyer John Corona told her such a penalty would far exceed the typical range for a case of impaired driving where there was no bodily injury or death to anyone. He described Popovic as a "sweetheart" when he’s not drinking.
Suche ultimately agreed to the proposed sentence and also put Popovic on three years of supervised probation - the longest allowed by law - upon his release from jail. 
His conditions include abstaining from alcohol and not being anywhere that it is served.
She also suspended him from driving for five years, although Corona said his client may face a lifetime ban from provincial officials because of his record.

I agree with the 8 months prison time, due to this man's prior driving record, that a more restrictive sanction is warranted. I also agree with the probation but feel that the conditions are not helpful. He should be required to attend substance abuse counseling as well, in a more intensive program. I would also like to know more about this man's background and mitigating factors. 

This article is biased in that it makes it appear to the uneducated reader, that this sentence is too lenient, when really, it is appropriate, considering the circumstances. This man has never killed or harmed anybody and a more serious sanction would be unjust and inappropriate. 

I also completely disagree with mandatory minimum sentences, such as those imposed for impaired driving. They do not deter, prevent or reduce crime. They cause further prison overcrowding and often individuals are sentenced too harshly because of them. They also leave judges with no discretion in considering all circumstances of an offender and their crime, but instead implying that all crimes are equal, when they are not. 

Too bad alcohol detectors didn't come as standard equipment on all vehicles. When alcohol is detected through skin contact via the steering wheel, the ignition could be disabled. (I have no idea whether this is scientifically possible but if they can design ankle bracelets to detect alcohol use, I can't see why the same principle couldn't be used.)

Do we even have alcohol-detecting ankle bracelets in Manitoba?

The judge "noted the Manitoba Court of Appeal has strict guidelines on when a judge can override plea bargains struck by experienced counsel." Obviously her hands were tied. If she had imposed a longer sentence, it would have been overturned on appeal so what's the point? I suppose that however much time he spent in Stony might give him better alcohol treatment than he'd receive in Headingley but who knows how long he'd be there before the decision was overturned?

It's a bad situation. You can't sentence the guy based on what he might do in the future. But, as the judge said, he's a walking time bomb. I wonder what sentences he received previously? Then again, maybe I don't want to know.

I agree with the 8 months, considering his previous driving record. A more restrictive sanction was warranted. I also agree with the probation but feel that the conditions are not helpful at all. This man suffers from an alcohol addiction and cannot simply abstain from alcohol. Firstly, he needs more intensive treatment to help him deal with his problem. 

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