Crown appeals Richard Suter's 'demonstrably unfit' jail sentence

Alberta’s highest court has been asked to send Richard Suter back to jail.

First time superior court asked to review sentencing for refusing to provide breath sample conviction

Gayska and Richard Suter outside the Edmonton courthouse in July 2015. The Crown is appealing Suter's four-month sentence. (CBC)

Alberta's highest court has been asked to send Richard Suter back to jail.

Last December, Suter was given a four-month sentence for refusing to provide a breath sample after the crash that killed toddler Geo Mounsef.

He has already served his sentence.  

Crown prosecutor Joanne Dartana called the sentence "demonstrably unfit," telling the Court of Appeal, "four months is not proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the moral blameworthiness of the offender."

Dartana argued trial judge Larry Anderson made legal errors by reducing Suter's sentence by too much when he focused on two key areas.  

The trial judge found Suter was not impaired at the time of the crash.

On Tuesday, the crown argued that fact is "irrelevant" in a sentence of refusing to provide a breath sample after death ensues. 

"If this is left alone," she said, "the message is that it's better to refuse and take your chances. 

"Otherwise many people, especially people involved in serious collisions, will be motivated to refuse in the future."

When Suter was taken into police custody in May 2013 after driving his SUV onto an restaurant patio killing Geo Mounsef, he received bad legal advice from a lawyer who essentially advised him not to provide a breath sample.
Geo Mounsef was killed in May 2013 when an SUV driven by Richard Suter crashed through an outdoor patio on a restaurant in Edmonton in May 2013. (Family photo)

That lawyer later testified he didn't know the Criminal Code had been changed to make the penalty for refusal the same as an impaired driving conviction.

The Crown argued police told Suter it was a crime to refuse to blow.  

"He knew what he was doing and he acted in his own best interest," she said.

Dartana believes Suter was awarded too much credit in his sentencing for the bad legal advice.

Suter's case '1 out of 10,000'

Suter's lawyer called the case "one out of 10,000" because of the bad legal advice from the lawyer on call that weekend.  

Dino Bottos called the proposed three-year sentence "dramatically harsh" and the Crown's arguments "inherently unfair".  

Bottos asked the court to lower Suter's five-year driving prohibition to one year.

He pointed out one of the main objectives in sentencing is to deter the public from committing a serious crime.

Bottos argued the verbal and physical attacks on Suter send out a strong message of deterrence.

"We don't just have public humiliation," he said. "The public would already be deterred. They'd say look what happened to him because of refusal. He's not safe ever in his life."

Last week, Steven Vollrath was found guilty of kidnapping and maiming Suter in an attack Suter believed was an act of vigilante justice. His thumb was cut off.  

The three Appeal Court justices have reserved their decision, noting the "seriousness" and "sadness" of the case.  

Their decision will be precedent-setting, since it's the first time a court as high as the Court of Appeal will review this relatively new charge.  

janice.johnston@cbc.ca

@cbcjanjohnston