Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Death by Careless Driving

A woman has died following a car crash on the Grande Route De La Cote in St Clement in Jersey. Dita Pavarniece, 27, from Latvia, was the passenger in a car that police said lost control in the wet conditions just before 0200 GMT on Saturday. Miss Pavarniece was treated for her injuries but later died in hospital. Police said the sports car was travelling along La Grande Route de la Cote  when it spun out of control by Green island. The male driver is in a comfortable and stable condition, receiving high dependency care. (1)

Jersey driver involved in fatal crash gets £750 fine. A man from Jersey has been fined £750 and banned from driving for 12 months for careless driving after a fatal car crash. Niall Linden, 37, from Midvale Road was acquitted of causing death by dangerous driving in July by the Royal Court. He admitted the lesser charge of careless driving and was sentenced on 7 September. It happened in February 2011 and the passenger, Dita Paverniece, 27, from  Latvia, was killed. Linden was behind the wheel of a Lotus Elise sports car, which is believed  to have skidded out of control when it happened. As well as the fine and driving ban, Linden will also have to retake his test. (2)

There's a lot of disquiet about the sentence here, and whether the police investigated the incident properly. The car is a safe vehicle, but I've been told that its aluminium construction, including body  work means that it has entirely different characteristics to that of  the average family saloon in an accident. It would disintegrate in an accident, and the greater the speed of impact the the more it would break-up. But I've been reliably informed that it has a very strong internal body shell that even when the body work has gone, which should protect both driver and  passenger. It's built on similar principles to racing cars - built essentially for track racing where safety is very  much at the fore - where the whole body shell is energy absorbing as  opposed to most family saloons that have 'crumple zones' and designed  largely to stay intact.

It appears that the scene may not have been investigated with knowledge of these special characteristics, so that the debris fields and degree of disintegration may have let to entirely different conclusions if examined by Lotus engineers; they would have been able to determine the force - and therefore speed of impact - required to cause such damage. But such expertise was not called in, and the car breakup was treated presumably more or less as if it was a family saloon. The result from such an investigation may well have led to a failure of sufficient evidence to secure a charge of dangerous driving.

There's a case given by a driver who was involved in an impact who was driving in the UK at 50-60 mph (although they were not to blame - another car came out across their path) and they note:

Luckily, the only injuries I sustained were bruising from the seat belt, a sprained shoulder and wrist (from bending the steering wheel !), and a severe head injury leaving a nice 3 inch scar on the back of my head. I feel I was very well protected. I did have to spend 7 weeks in hospital including 3 days in intensive care and 1 day on life support. My head injury got me a six month driving ban from the DVLA with a medical before I was allowed to drive again.

Lotus did fantastic job with the 'safety cell' design, the car able to take this sort of impact and leave the inside of the car intact. I was so impressed that I bought another, before I got my license back...In retrospect, I should have tried to stop and hit her head on. I have seen the Discovery Channel program about the car's design, and remember it survived the 30mph crash test into a solid concrete block, such that it could have been driven afterwards. (3)

So one might well ask: what speed was he in fact driving at the time? At 2.00pm in the morning, in deserted roads, was he driving recklessly fast?

What is shocking, I think, is the fact that the sentence seems so lenient, and yet it has cost a young woman her life. It seems that the price of that life is valued at £750, and a driving ban, and that's all. Somehow that seems to be wrong. It comes to the concept, which is an old one, of "desert", that the criminal gets a punishment which they deserve for what they have done. C.S. Lewis made this comment:

Some enlightened people would like to banish all conceptions of retribution or desert from their theory of punishment and place its value wholly in the deterrence of others or the reform of the criminal himself. They do not see that by so doing they render all punishment unjust. What can be more immoral than to inflict suffering on me for the sake of deterring others if I do not deserve it? And if I do deserve it, you are admitting the claims of 'retribution.'(4)

The idea of "just desert" is also expanded up by David Starkweather, writing in the Indiana Law Journal:

The concept of just deserts seeks to preserve human dignity through punishment. It asserts that a person is a rational individual with the free will to make a moral choice whether or not to engage in conduct known to be prohibited. Retribution under a just deserts principle treats a defendant as a dignified human being by responding to his or her conduct in a way that respects his or her choice to engage in wrongful behavior.(5)

This brings in the appropriateness of the punishment to the wrongdoer:

If one asks how severely a wrongdoer deserves to be punished, a familiar principle comes to mind: Severity of punishment should be commensurate with the seriousness of the wrong. Only grave wrongs merit severe penalties; minor misdeeds deserve lenient punishments. Disproportionate penalties are undeserved - severe sanctions for minor wrongs or vice versa.(5)

And there is also another factor to take into account with sentencing according to this concept:

Recognition of harm emphasizes that crime does not merely violate a rule or code; it also affects both victims and society. Including harm in the calculus preserves human dignity because doing so not only recognizes the consequence of an offender's free will, but also considers the offense as an injury to another person.(5)

What has happened in the courts, outside of statutory offenses, has been a gradual removal of the link between sentence and the concept of "just desert". This is why, I think, the case of Niall Linden strikes us as shocking.

But that isn't actually new. Agatha Christie gave full reign to her feelings that there were cases where justice had not been served in her book "And Then There Were None". Ten people are duped into coming to a remote island, all cases quite untouchable by the law, or where the law seemed have acted to give a trivial sentence, and they are all killed, one by one, to pay for their crimes. I'm not in any way saying that death by dangerous driving should merit that, but I'm just citing this, because it shows an attitude which Agatha Christie expressed by her characters, which relates very much to incidents of this sort.

There is a character in the book called Tony Marston, who is a reckless driver:

Tony Marston, roaring down into Mere, thought to himself: "The amount of cars crawling about the roads is frightful. Always something blocking your way. And they will drive in the middle of the road! Pretty hopeless driving in England, anyway. . . . Not like France where you really could let out. . . ." Should he stop here for a drink, or push on? Heaps of time! Only another hundred miles and a bit to go. He'd have a gin and gingerbeer. Fizzing hot day! This island place ought to be rather good fun-if the weather lasted. (6)

And he is accused of this crime: "Anthony James Marston, that upon the 14th day of November last, you were
guilty of the murder of John and Lucy Combes"

His response is that it was just bad luck that it happened, not as result of his driving:

"I've just been thinking-John and Lucy Combes. Must have been a couple of kids I ran over near Cambridge. Beastly bad luck." Mr. Justice Wargrave said acidly: "For them, or for you?" Anthony said: "Well, I was thinking-for me-but of course, you're right, Sir, it was damned bad luck on them. Of course it was a pure accident. They rushed out of some cottage or other. I had my licence endorsed for a year. Beastly nuisance." Dr. Armstrong said warmly: "This speeding's all wrong-all wrong! Young men like you are a danger to the community."

Anthony shrugged his shoulders. He said: "Speed's come to stay. English roads are hopeless, of course. Can't get up a decent pace on them." He looked round vaguely for his glass, picked it up off a table and went over to the side table and helped himself to another whiskey and soda. He said over his shoulder: "Well, anyway, it wasn't my fault. Just an accident!" (6)

The policeman who investigates the case later also expresses a view:

Maine went stolidly on with his list. "Young Marston was a fairly reckless car driver-had his licence endorsed twice and he ought to have been prohibited from driving, in my opinion. That's all there is to him. The two names John and Lucy Combes were those of two kids he knocked down and killed near Cambridge. Some friends of his gave evidence for him and he was let off with a fine. (6)

I think it is pretty clear that Agatha Christie shared this point of view, but whether or not she did, it shows that the theme of death caused by driving is nothing new, nor is the fact that sentences can be quite lenient.

What I think we need is some more explanations of why the sentences are so light, or why the charge of death by dangerous driving was dropped - did the police not examine the site properly, and was that why they took around 8 hours or so with a crash at the end of Victoria Avenue, to make sure they didn't make the same mistake? These are surmises, but ones which intelligent people may well ask.

There is in fact a long list of deaths like this in the UK, where people feel outraged at the sentence. It is not just something which happens in Jersey, although given the small size of the community, it has a much higher visibility here. Here are a few elsewhere:

The parents of a young Liverpool woman killed the day after starting a new life in London today branded the law "an absolute disgrace" after the driver responsible walked free from court. Rebecca Williams, 25, died instantly when she was struck as she crossed the A40 dual carriageway at Acton in December 2006. This week the driver, Shirley Anne Pierre, received a pounds 1,000 fine and eight points on her licence. Ms Williams' father, George, 53, said: "Is this what our daughter's life has been reduced to? "Because she's pregnant the judge has decided she won't even lose her licence, so she can leave that courtroom and get straight into her car. "This judgement tells us that you can go out in a car, kill someone through negligence and get away with it." Ms Pierre, 29, was originally charged with causing death by dangerous driving, but was found guilty of the alternative careless driving at Isleworth Crown Court. (7)

A CROWN Court jury has deemed that the driver of a lorry which crossed into the wrong lane was not responsible for causing the death by dangerous driving of a Sixmilecross man who was in an oncoming Ford Mondeo. Michael Tierney (62) from Sixmilecross died from multiple injuries several hours after the collision on the 'old' A4 Dungannon to Ballygawley Road on February 4, 2008. The jury at Dungannon Crown Court did convict Adam Joseph Pisarski (58) of  the lesser offence of careless driving. Following the verdict, Judge David McFarland stated that there is currently legislation that would allow a defendant to be convicted of "causing death by careless driving" however it was not available to the jury as the fatal collision occurred prior to new offence. Pisarski, who was residing in Tullamore, Co Offaly was fined £500 and disqualified from driving for 12 months. (8)

And the website
has whole lists of cases.

(1) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-jersey-12447022
(2) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-jersey-19525660
(3) http://www.elises.co.uk/miscellaneous/safety/index.html
(4) The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis
(5) The Retributive Theory of "Just Desserts" and Victim Participation in Plea Bargaining, David A. Starkweather, Indiana Law Journal, 1992
(6) And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie
(7) Liverpool Echo, 2008
(8) http://www.ulsterherald.com/2012/06/14/lorry-driver-acquitted-of-causing-death-by-dangerous-driving/
(9) http://www.scid.org.uk/html/courts.html
(10) http://www.thisisjersey.com/news/2012/07/30/wife-of-man-killed-in-crash-given-suspended-sentence/


Anonymous said...

You cover a lot of ground here in your usual methodical way.
To my simple mind, the prime concern (which everyone I have spoken to shares) is why, after some 18 months to prepare the case, our prosecutor simply announces in court to offer no evidence. I could go into detail about the usual circumstances in which this course of action is taken but I believe that, in this case, that is simply not necessary.
The way it panned out is clearly indicative of a plea bargain struck between the prosecution and defence. Offer no evidence, proceed with a charge for a minor offence to which the defendant pleads guilty and then rub salt into the wound with a ridiculously low fine and driving ban. To add yet more salt, I understand that the defendant was awarded costs!
To the ordinary man on the Clapham omnibus this indicates that our prosecution service has been guilty of gross negligence or, alternatively, there are far more sinister reasons for this extraordinary turn of events.
It is a fact that our prosecutors are generally very able lawyers and could not possibly have been this negligent - which leaves the other very unpalatable scenario.
Neither I nor anyone else with whom I have discussed this issue is satisfied with the outcome. In fact, we are quite disgusted!

TonyTheProf said...

I'd be more inclined to put it down to negligence at the crime scene, which may have opened up plea bargaining as a more acceptable option for the prosecution.

TonyTheProf said...

And that would explain why the Bel Royal Crash suddenly came under a huge scrutiny of the site.

TonyTheProf said...

It still stinks, because it offends the natural desire for just desert. It simply doesn't seem fair.

Anonymous said...

No doubt there was negligence at the scene. But why would our prosecutors bother to prepare a case to take to court over an 18 month period and then pull the plug at the last minute?

thejerseyway said...

Hi Tony.

This is just another piece of Jersey at its best, "No one is to blame just move along nothing to see here, we'll learn from your mistakes"

How long are the people of Jersey going to put up with this Government. I've spoken to around 15 people all outraged by the sentence but will not say anything to anybody.

Your the clever one, what can people do when the BBC, Channel TV & the JEP only tell us what the Government want us to know. They do not investigate peoples concerns.

rico sorda said...

Hi Tony,

My thoughts for what they are worth.

I am under no doubt that Linden was the driver of the car. The spotlight in my opinion should be shone on the Police who investigated the accident as it was down to them that the prosecution offered no case.

Could it be that the Police just messed up the crash investigation? Im trying to follow the line here. I can't see that there would have been a plea bargain by the prosecution on this high profile case.

If anyone wants to investigate this crash and terrible death I would start with the Crash Investigating Officer as it was he who should have put the facts together for the prosecution. Now, if he failed in this aspect the questions must be asked why.


No clear evidence?

Panic that they might have messed up a very high profile case. The real story is what happened to the Police investigation.

Just my thoughts


Anonymous said...

Tony are you going to sign Trevore
petition ref; Leah Goodman?

TonyTheProf said...

Yes I've signed the petition

Anonymous said...

I think people need to focus on the strange fact that this relatively simple incident took 18 months before coming to court. Totally "extraordinary justice."

Also I think the spot where it happened is almost exactly the same as where a policeman killed a woman while answering a so-called emergency call.