Refusing to blow: Edmonton toddler patio death case raises questions about that option
Richard Suter's failure to give breath sample on lawyer's advice complicated trial
The four-month sentence given to Richard Suter in the death of toddler Geo Mounsef shouldn't set a precedent for drivers who refuse to give breath samples, a legal expert says.
Peter Sankoff, a law professor at the University of Alberta, said Suter's case was complicated by the fact his lawyer told him not to provide a breath sample, advice the judge said was "ill-informed."
"I don't think the lawyer was supposed to give that advice, or could give that advice legally to a legal obligation to provide a breath sample," Sankoff said. "But nonetheless (Suter) took advice, which rebuts the idea that he was doing this as a way to evade his responsibility."
- Driver Richard Suter sentenced to 4 months in patio death of toddler Geo Mounsef
- Richard Suter appealing four-month sentence
Suter was found guilty for refusing to provide a breath sample. Judge Larry Anderson found that Suter was not impaired when he crashed his SUV into a restaurant patio, killing the two-year-old boy, who was eating dinner with his family.
Both the Crown and Suter are appealing the four-month sentence.
Under the Canadian Criminal Code, when a suspected drunk driver refuses to take a breathalyzer test, the law states they will be treated as if they were impaired.
Sankoff says even if a driver is intoxicated, they should not refuse to provide a breath sample.
"If somebody calls me and says, 'Should I blow?', my answer is always yes," he said. "You should always blow because if you blow under that's your best chance at avoiding responsibility. There's always a chance you'll blow under."
However, George Mounsef, the child's father, said the sentence could set a disturbing precedent for other drivers.
"If somebody like Suter is to refuse and then get four months, what's to stop other people from thinking that they can do the same?' he asked.
"That's the reason the sentence needs to be longer, and needs to fit the crime."
Leila Andrews of Mothers Against Drunk Driving says the consequences are still severe if a driver refuses to provide a breath sample.
"People are not as supportive of those that are maybe trying to dodge away from the consequence or from taking away from that responsibility," she said.
Despite outrage over the sentencing in the Suter case, Andrews says anti-drunk driving advocates have to have faith in the justice system.