The High Court Judgment of the case of the Queen (St.Lucia) v Caleb Antoine is now available and we have the opportunity to analyze the reasoning of the Court in a matter which has been the source of much controversy in our little island. Drivers everywhere breathed a sigh of relief when they learnt that another man who pleaded guilty to a charge, the punishment for which is “imprisonment not less than 5 years and not exceeding 15 years”, escaped having paid a minuscule EC$10,000 fine, despite killing one person and seriously injuring another.
The objective of this piece is not to criticize the police, prosecution or the judiciary in an attempt to undermine the state machinery. The objective is to cause the question to be asked: What circumstances warrant a jail term for dangerous driving?
If you somehow managed to miss the fanfare surrounding this case, the facts in brief were that around 4:00 am on 8th February, 2014 Mr. Antoine was driving his Subaru Legacy from the Legacy Night Club to his home in Cedar Heights when he lost control of his vehicle, skidded across the road, crashed into a wall and then slammed into two pedestrians, one of whom was seriously injured and the other killed.
Mr. Antoine told the police at the scene that he had consumed one Chairman’s spiced rum and cranberry juice prior (there is no indication that he was made to submit to a blood test) and was driving at 35-40 mph when the accident occurred. Weather and road conditions were cited as contributing factors.
This statement becomes a bit less believable when juxtaposed against the evidence gathered from the scene. Based on the measurements taken at the accident spot, Mr. Antoine’s Subaru Legacy car travelled a distance of 152 feet after he lost control of it. It then ran off and travelled a further 27 feet before making impact with a wall. After hitting the wall, the vehicle again veered off hitting Omatoya Olaogun Morrison (the deceased) and his friend Maninder Kaur.
Mr. Antoine was taken into custody, and charged with (1) Causing the Death of Omatoya Olaogun Morrison by dangerous driving and; (2) Dangerous driving, and placed on bail.
On 21st July, 2015 the Court considered submissions filed by both sides and gave a Maximum Sentence Indication, basically a procedure which allows the Court to tell the defendant the sentence he would receive if he pleaded guilty. The Judge indicated that having regard to all of the circumstances it intended “to impose a sentence of a fine and/or a suspended sentence together with remedial or defensive driving classes”.
The question on the mind of most Saint Lucians was: How could a man who admits to killing someone and seriously injuring another at 4:00 am after consuming alcohol, be told to pay a fine?
In determining whether to impose a custodial sentence the Court first looked at the case of cases of R v Wendell Varlack and Robert Charles Cooksley et al v R. These cases held that the first factor to be considered in matters of this nature was the offender’s level of culpability. This should be balanced against the harm or risk caused by the offence.
It was the finding of the Court that having regard to the above mentioned facts, Mr. Antoine had a low level of culpability. The learned judge in her ruling also quoted a number of decided cases which caused similar social upheaval within Saint Lucia at their respective times. Among the cases,
the one which stood out as the closest to the present case on the facts was the case of R v Jesse Charles SLUCRD2009/2008.
On January 10th, 2009 Jesse Charles left the Upper Level Night Club after 3:00 am, fell asleep at the wheel and collided with a wall in La Toc causing the death of his friend who was in the passenger’s seat. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a fine of EC$10,000, in default to serve three years and to be disqualified from holding a driver’s license for a period of five years. The sole aggravating factor was that he fell asleep at the wheel. The facts of the present case are more serious than that of the case of Jesse Charles; however, Mr. Antoine has received a lesser sentence than Mr. Charles.
Having regard to the cases extracted from the judgment it would suggest that the proper sentence to be imposed on someone leaving a night club in the early hours of the morning, having consumed alcohol, and who was (arguably) speeding (although this was not a finding of the Court), should have been a jail sentence. It is necessary for society to show its abhorrence in circumstances where life is lost as a result of dangerous driving.
The complete judgment of the Honourable Justice V. Georgis Taylor-Alexander in the matter of the Queen v Caleb Elijah Antoine is available at: www.eccourts.org/queen-v-caleb-elijah-antoine.