Emma Czornobaj’s decision to speak to the news media about her remorse and fear of being sentenced to jail for causing the deaths of a motorcyclist and his daughter when she stopped on a highway to help a group of ducklings could work in her favour, says one criminal defence lawyer.
Philip Schneider says Czornobaj’s exclusive interview with CBC News on Wednesday was not only appropriate, but it could have a positive outcome when her sentencing hearing begins in August.
“The judge can take into account that she has expressed condolences to the family and regret for what happened,” the Montreal-based attorney said.
Czornobaj was found guilty in June of two counts of criminal negligence causing death and two counts of dangerous driving causing death in the 2010 incident that claimed the lives of motorcyclist Andre Roy, 50, and his 16-year-old daughter Jessie.
Roy crashed into the back of Czornobaj’s car as it sat parked in the passing lane while she tried to move a group of ducklings away from the side of the highway.
Czornobaj told CBC News that it was mistake and her intent was never to harm anyone.
“That’s it. It was an accident,” she said.
Czornobaj said she also wanted to apologize to Roy’s widow, Pauline Volikakis.
"I've never had a chance to say I'm sorry and that is what I would like to say,” she said.
Schneider said a judge has to take into consideration this kind of statement when deciding on sentencing.
“You’re not sentencing an offence. You’re sentencing a person for an offence they’ve been found guilty of,” Schneider said.
'An unusual move'
Criminal defence attorney Eric Sutton told CBC News that it was an unusual move for someone awaiting sentencing to speak to the media.
Doing so "has its inherent risks," Sutton said, though he did not feel Czornobaj said anything she might regret.
“She didn’t say anything untoward and appeared contrite and concerned, so I don’t think it’s an interview that’s going to cause her any difficulties, but it’s not likely to play any role in the sentencing process,” he said.
A judge’s sentencing decision in cases of criminal negligence causing death and dangerous driving causing death looks at the nature of the crime, the evidence for that crime, the accused’s profile, and the case law.
“Generally, people get jailed for that kind of crime,” Sutton said.
Judge has wide latitude in sentencing
However, both Sutton and Scheider agreed that the judge in Czornobaj’s case has broad discretion when it comes to her sentencing. Criminal negligence causing death has no minimum sentence and a maximum sentence of life in prison.
“Anything within that spectrum, [the judge] has that discretion if it is justified and appears reasonable. In other words, he could sentence her to probation, to community work, to an enormous fine. He could sentence her to jail for 90 days served on weekends, or for three years or more in a penitentiary,” Sutton said.
Sutton said the existence of an online petition signed by more than 12,000 that calls for leniency in Czornobaj’s sentencing should also have no impact on the judge’s decision.
“The judge should certainly render his decision independent of what the public outcry might want,” he said.