St. Catharines, Canada (PressExposure) October 01, 2009 -- The recent decision by Napanee Judge G.J. Griffin ruling stunt driving as unconstitutional has people buzzing. Opposing camps have offered justifications for the ruling ("absolute liability offences should not carry custodial sentences") and justifications for the charge itself ("stricter laws = safer roads").
A driver charged with stunt driving in Ontario under section 172 of the Highway Traffic Act faces the risk of a maximum fine of $10,000, imprisonment, and a licence suspension upon conviction.
Does this ruling mean all current stunt charges before the courts will be withdrawn? What, if any, are the implications of this ruling for people charged under section 172 of the Highway Traffic Act in Ontario?
First off, the Napanee ruling only pertains to the definition of speeding. A driver can be charged with stunt or racing based on the other definitions outlined in regulation 455/07. Stunt driving consists of various definitions such as,
1) driving a motor vehicle in a manner that indicates an intention to lift some or all of its tires from the surface of the highway, 2) driving a motor vehicle that indicates an intention to cause some or all of its tires to lose traction, 3) driving a motor vehicle that indicates an intention to prevent another vehicle from passing
...and the list goes on...
In a nutshell, a driver charged with stunt or racing as a result of other reasons apart from speeding should not expect any significant changes from the recent ruling.
Drivers charged with stunt driving as a result of speeding stand a better chance. The recent ruling, however, does not result in the immediate withdrawal of all stunt driving charges relating to excessive speed. A charter application still has to be filed and argued for each individual matter.
As to be expected, Ontario is appealing the recent ruling. Thus, it is likely stunt driving charges currently before the court whereby Charter Applications have been filed and argued may be put on hold until the judgement for this upcoming appeal has been heard. Certainly, any delays attributable to the court system or prosecution entitles the defendant to yet another Charter Application which argues a defendant's right to be tried within a reasonable amount of time...thereby increasing a defendant's chances once again.
Amidst all of the debate and discussion surrounding the recent ruling, a major aspect surrounding the stunt driving law remains to be discussed. Despite a defendant's right to the presumption of innocence, a driver charged with the offence loses his/her vehicle at the roadside for seven days and has to incur the towing and impoundment costs. Is not a roadside licence suspension sufficient enough to prevent the defendant from driving? Certainly, the police officer will not allow the defendant to drive away from the scene and more often than not, a defendant has access to other vehicles during his/her suspension. Ultimately, is towing a defendant's vehicle really necessary to protect the public or is it just a form of punishment administered before the defendant's guilt is decided by a fair and impartial tribunal?
Discussion surrounding the constitutionality of the search and seizure related to the stunt driving charge is long overdue. Would this discussion merely be a futile exercise given the cited 'politics' often associated with legal matters and rulings? Perhaps.
For any legal matter, there are always at least two sides to an argument. It is our duty as citizens to ensure both sides are heard equally and fairly. Most societal change and growth would not have been accomplished if it were not for the individuals who questioned and challenged laws now deemed as prejudicial or unjust.
The debate surrounding the constitutionality of stunt driving is far from over. In the end, it is important to remember as Earl Warren once stated, "It is the spirit and not the form of law that keeps justice alive." Discourse surrounding this controversial law continues and rightly so.