Prime Time Crime

(Prime Time Crime exclusive April 11, 2011)

Nothing Special

By Bob Cooper




The announcement of a plea deal in which North Vancouver-Seymour MLA Jane Thornthwaite pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of Driving Without Due Care and Attention under the Motor Vehicle Act has led to a firestorm of allegations that she received special treatment because of her position and I can understand why.  While everything Iíve heard about Ms. Thornthwaite has been very positive and sheís been described to me as a very nice person, the same canít be said of the company she keeps.  The government in which she serves makes the administrations of Jean Chretien and Louisiana Governor Huey Long seem like that of ďHonest AbeĒ Lincoln and itís little wonder people are suspicious.

That notwithstanding, Iíve got to side with the Crown on this one.  From what Iíve read of the circumstances their decision was proper, reasonable, and most of all, fair.  Ms. Thornthwaite was stopped at a roadblock in North Vancouver and no observations were made of her driving.  Her speech and balance appeared normal and the only indication of alcohol consumption was a smell of liquor in her vehicle.  After blowing a Fail on the Roadside Screening Device she was taken back to the RCMP Detachment where she provided 2 breath samples two hours later with each registering a Blood Alcohol content of .11% and she was charged with Driving Over .08% under the Criminal Code.  She was released and because of her position a Special Prosecutor was appointed.   A subsequent review of the case led to the plea deal for a couple of reasons.

On the legal side there were evidentiary problems which most Impaired and Over .08 cases are fraught with which is why thereís a very low conviction rate.  We donít know what caused the delay but the law requires that the samples be obtained within two hours of the driving.  Because both readings were the same there is no way of knowing whether her blood alcohol level was rising or falling leaving room for the possibility that at the time she was driving she may in fact have been under .08%.  A cornerstone of our legal system is that doubts like this must be resolved in favor of the accused.   Had the case gone to trial she stood a very good chance of being acquitted completely.

On the practical side, as the judge noted, Ms. Thornthwaiteís readings were on the low end of the scale.  With no physical symptoms of impairment a lot of cops would simply have given her a 24 hour suspension, sent her home in a cab, and that would have been the end of it.  I know that because Iíve done it lots of times in my old Traffic days.

Most importantly, the treatment Ms. Thornthwaite got was nothing special.  In fact it happens all the time and Iíve written about it in previous columns (The Golden Goose) (Charge approval (or not).  Plea bargaining is the systemís way of coping with a lack of courthouses, staff, judges, and prosecutors along with the crushing effects of the Charter of Rights thatís made both police investigations and criminal trials ridiculously complicated, time-consuming, and labor-intensive.

Ironically, the only indirect benefit Ms. Thornthwaite received from her government is the fact that theyíve gutted the criminal justice system in this province so badly that it will take years to repair the damage and get it functioning properly again. 

Hundreds of other accused get the same break every day and considering the publicity sheís been subjected to because of her position, Ms. Thornthwaite has suffered way more than most of them.

Bob Cooper is a retired Vancouver policeman.  He walked a beat in Chinatown and later worked in the Asian Organized Crime Section and the Homicide Squad.


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