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Hit-and-Run Law: Longer Imprisonment?

Following a “hit and run” incident in 2003 that made newspaper headlines, the Canadian Parliament is now considering proposed legislation that has become known as “Carley’s Law”. “Carley’s law” is named for “Carley”, a 13-year-old girl who was killed by a “hit and run” driver in Abbotsford in the early evening of January 6, 2003. “Carly” was rollerblading with her sister and a friend who were bicycling. Although all three girls were hit, the two cyclists were uninjured despite being knocked into a water-filled ditch. “Carley” however, died on the road.

The driver who hit the girls was driving without a license.  His license had been suspended and he had received eleven driving prohibitions and citations since 1997. He claimed that he was not drinking or speeding at the time, that he had not seen the girls and that when he realized what had happened he panicked and fled. Reportedly, after leaving the scene he removed his license plates from his car and towed it away.
The driver was sentenced to 18 months in jail with credit for time served reducing his actual prison time to 14 months plus three years of probation and his driver’s license was suspended for 10 years.
“Carley’s Law” would provide something new – minimum sentences for “hit and run” offenders. There would be a minimum of seven years imprisonment, to maximum life imprisonment, if the incident involves the death of another. If the victim suffers bodily harm but survives, there would be a four-year minimum prison sentence. Also, Crown Counsel (the government prosecutor) would not be allowed to plea-bargain the charge of “hit and run”, to obtain a guilty plea on a less serious charge.
Experts who follow legislative changes are saying that it is unlikely that the “Carley’s Law” proposal will be accepted by Parliament. The difficulty may be that there have not been enough of these extreme incidents to cause public indignation sufficient to motivate Parliament to take the unusual step of establishing minimum sentences. It can also be expected that the courts appreciate having a large degree of discretion on sentencing, in order to allow them to take into account the unique circumstances of each case.
Even if the “Carley’s Law” proposal does not succeed, sentencing of “hit and run” drivers may become more severe, with more public concern and Crown counsel seeking longer sentences under the existing law. Public concern may lead to people focusing on the fact that the offender is someone who might have helped save a life or reduce an injury but did not. The offender is also someone who attempts to escape accountability. Society must bear the cost of the extra police work involved in tracking the criminal as well as extra work on the part of insurance companies in dealing with a claim that is unnecessarily complicated.
Anyone who is a victim of a “hit and run” crime may contact Crown Counsel’s office and express, politely and in a businesslike way, their concern about an appropriate sentence for the offender.
Please drive safely.

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