Car accident Sentencing case study analysis

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Jason Smith’s Offence

Dangerous driving refers to that which “falls far below” how a competent and careful driver would drive and would be obvious to such a driver that the manner of driving would be dangerous (Sentencing Guidelines Advisory, 2008). The following factors are considered as constituting dangerous driving: aggressive driving, for example, a sudden change of lanes; disregard for traffic road signs, which would seem to be intentional if analysed objectively; driving to one’s knowledge of a defective vehicle, or one so loaded as to potentially endanger other road users; the use of hand-held devices that would distract the driver from attentive driving; driving under the influence of alcohol or other substances; driving when one is too exhausted or tired; and, driving when one has an impairment of sight or the limbs.

Jason Smith’s vehicle hit a tree because he had been driving above the required speed limit. He had done so despite knowing that he had been carrying passengers and so would endanger not just his life, but theirs as well. The case study does not say Jason was drunk at the time of driving, nor does it give any other reason that may have led to him over-speeding. However, it says that he had a history of alcohol abuse. He had also fallen out with his parents, who had, as a result, kicked him out, leaving him living and spending his nights on his friend’s sofa. The two-point to Jason having been in a disturbed mental state, and possibly his knowledge of having been so but driving despite. According to the court’s findings, Jason Smith was guilty of breaking UK law by driving dangerously and, consequently, causing death. As well as according to Sentencing Guidelines Advisory (2008) the driving was a serious offence.

Aggravating and Mitigating Factors in Jason’s Case

Aggravating factors are those that make the offence more serious in the court’s judgement. They include previous convictions for traffic offences, the death of more than one person, disregard for traffic signs and rules, driving without qualification, insurance or required documents, driving a stolen vehicle or without the consent of the owner of the vehicle, trying to cover the offence, trying to escape detection, for example by driving off, and claiming any of the victims was responsible for the accident (Sentencing Guidelines Advisory, 2008). Jason Smith was not found to have violated any of the aforementioned, except for over-speeding, which may be construable as a violation of traffic rules.

Jason Smith’s dangerous driving led to death. Danny Mathers lost his life in hospital after being admitted because of the injuries he had sustained in the accident. The death does not, however, count as an aggravating factor.  Only when there is more than one death does the advisory consider death as an aggravating factor (Sentencing Guidelines Advisory, 2008). Moreover, just the occurrence of two or more deaths does not count as an aggravating factor. According to Sentencing Guidelines Advisory (2008), in its assessment of culpability, the court should take into account whether the driver was in a position to anticipate the death of two or more people.

Jason Smith, however, received a higher sentence than the minimum for causing death. Although he must have known that he had three passengers, only one of them lost his life. The higher sentence should at least be attributable to an aggravating factor, but it is not clear which. There is no mention of him being under the influence of alcohol at the time of driving or being in too bad a state of mind to drive, or any other factor listed earlier as an aggravating factor. The only factor is that he was possibly aware that if he over-sped, he would put in danger the lives of his three passengers, as well as that of his own. The Sentencing Guidelines Advisory (2008) does not list those as aggravating factors.

Mitigating factors are those that lead to the harshness of sentences being reduced. They include unwitting consumption of alcohol, serious injury to the offender, relationship of the victims to the offender, contribution of a third party to the accident, lack of driving experience, and whether the driving that caused the accident had been a response to a genuine and proven emergency for which there was no ready alternative action (Sentencing Guidelines Advisory, 2008). There were a number of factors in Jason Smith’s case that may have counted as mitigating factors.

A mitigating factor is whether the accident had an effect on the driver. If the offender suffers serious injuries, the sentences passed are mitigated (Sentencing Guidelines Advisory, 2008). The case study mentions that Smith was hospitalised, following the accident. This is interpretable as Smith having been injured as a result of the accident. It does not, however, give any indications as to the seriousness of his injuries, which is an important piece of information as, according to Sentencing Guidelines Advisory (2008), the level of mitigation in this regard should depend on the extent to which the offender is injured. The case study does not provide this information, and it is not clear to what extent the court mitigated his sentencing if it did at all.

Two of the people injured in the accident had a close relationship with Jason Smith. However, one passenger in the car was Smith’s girlfriend, and another was his girlfriend’s brother. According to Sentencing Guidelines Advisory (2008), it is a mitigating factor if the victim was in a close family or personal relationship. The injury of the two may mitigate Smith’s sentencing. The Sentencing Guidelines Advisory does not make it clear as to how closely related to those injured the offender should be, neither does it say what the extent of mitigation should be for what type of relationship. Nonetheless, Jason Smith was eligible for mitigation.

Smith’s lawyer told the court that his client had expressed in an interview a substantial amount of remorse. It is a general expectation that anyone whose driving causes death should express remorse for his or her actions. However, the expectation of remorse cannot undermine the importance of remorse for the purposes of sentencing (Sentencing Guidelines Advisorys, 2008). Moreover, according to Sentencing Guidelines Advisorys (2008), the Advisory Guidelines identify remorse as personal mitigation, and the Advisory agrees that there are no grounds to treat it differently for driving offences. Accordingly, it is not the expression of remorse that counts, but whether at all it is genuine, and, according to Sentencing Guidelines Advisory (2008), as to whether remorse is genuine, it is upon the court to decide.

Ancillary Orders in Jason’s Case

The court disqualified Jason Smith from driving. The disqualification was in line with the requirements of the UK law. In cases where dangerous driving leads to death, it is a requirement that the offender be disqualified for a length time exceeding that for which the court sentences him or her to serve in prison (Sentencing Guidelines Advisory, 2008). Jason was disqualified from driving for nine years, a year longer than the length of his imprisonment for causing death. The court also disqualified him for seven years on each count of causing injury to the other two passengers, for each of which it sentenced him to four years imprisonment. The court also passed that Jason Smith must take an extended driving test before he could resume driving. The extended driving test is compulsory for offenders found to have caused death by careless driving, dangerous driving, and driving under the influence of substances (Sentencing Guidelines Advisory, 2008). Smith caused death by dangerous driving, and so the court was justified to impose on him the extended driving test requirement.

The Levels of Jason’s Offence

The court sentence Jason Smith to an eight-year imprisonment for causing the death of Danny Mathers. Sentencing Guidelines Advisory (2008) require that in the case of death of a passenger the range of sentencing be between seven and fourteen years of custody, with eight years as the starting point. This is Level One of the dangerous driving offence, which Sentencing Guidelines Advisory (2008) describes as one at which the offender deliberately decides to ignore or flagrantly disregards traffic rules, greatly endangering the lives of his or her passengers. The court found Jason Smith to have been over-speeding at 41-50mph, which led to him losing control of his car and eventually crashing into a tree. The case study does not mention whether Jason Smith either deliberately ignored traffic rules or flagrantly disregarded them, leaving it inconclusive as to whether his offence falls under Level One or a lower level.

For the counts of the cause of serious injuries to Sam Bryment and Patsy, the court sentenced Jason Smith to four-year imprisonment each. According to Sentencing Guidelines Advisory (2008), the range of the length of time of imprisonment should be between four and seven years, with a starting point of five years. This is Level Two, which Sentencing Guidelines Advisory (2008) describe as that at which the driving creates a substantial risk to life. It is clear that the sentencing on these two counts was in line with requirements of the Advisory. However, as is the case in level one, where there is no definition of the word ‘great’, level two does not define ‘substantial’ either. However, as there is no lower level than Level Three, and being that the accident caused “life-changing injuries” to Sam Bryment and Patsy, the sentencing under level two is arguably justified.

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Appropriateness and Proportion of Jason Smith’s Sentence

Tanking into account his offences, as well as aggravations and mitigations, the court does not appear to have sentenced Jason Smith proportionately. According to the notion of “just deserts”, punishment for crime needs to be proportional to the crime committed. Jason was sentenced to 4 years for causing life-changing injuries to two of his passengers. Most people would prefer to serve four-year jail terms than spend the rest of their lives with life-changing injuries. He was also sentenced to eight years for the death of one of his passengers, which appears too fair. His sentences were however partly in line with retributivism, which, according to Ashworth (2002), justifies punishment as the appropriate or natural response to a criminal offence, and requires that its quantum be in proportion to the level of offence. The court appears to have punished him too fairly. Alternatively, had he been punished too harshly, for example to hanging, it would have created the impression of vengeance rather than justice.

Considering that the punishments appear to have been too fair, Jason Smith’s sentences seem to undermine deterrence, which is a more forward-looking justification punishment, as it promises social benefits by deterring criminality. In terms of deterrence, the point of punishment is to have the offender find it so frightening or so unpleasant as to not reoffend for fear of going through the same experience again (Dignan, 2002). There is a risk of Jason Smith reoffending if the sentences are not so harsh as to deter him. However, if the sentences were harsher, there would be a possibility of Jason reoffending. According to Gouph (2018), offenders who suffer very harsh punishments are more likely to offend than those that suffer less harsh punishments. It is therefore inconclusive as to whether Jason Smith’s sentences would deter him from reoffending.

Rehabilitation would have been a more productive sentence to Jason Smith. Jason had had a falling out with his parents and started drinking excessively. He alcohol abuse had reached an extent that he himself admitted it needed treatment. He also lived and slept on his friend’s sofa. All this point to his life being troubled, something that may have negatively impacted his mental state and, possibly, contributed to the accident. He simply needed rehabilitation, as his lawyer told the court. According to Cavadino and Dignan (2007), rehabilitation takes the form of the character, behaviour, or mental state of the offender, reducing the likelihood of him or her reoffending in future. In spite of the fact that this would have been a more productive sentence than the one that appeared to have been meant to deter re-offence but could fail to serve that purpose, the court did not consider it.

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  1. Ashworth, A. (2002). Responsibilities, rights and restorative justice. British Journal of Criminology, 42(3), 578-595.
  2. Cavadino, M., & Dignan, J. (2006). Penal systems: A comparative approach. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  3. Cavadino, M., & Dignan, J. (2007). The penal system: An introduction. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  4. Dignan, J. (2002). Restorative justice and the law: the case for an integrated, systemic approach. Restorative Justice and the Law, 168-190.
  5. Gouph, D. (2018). Penal Philosophies. Penology and Penal Policies, Part 1.
  6. Sentencing Guidelines Advisory (2008, July). Causing Death by Dangerous Driving. SGC.
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