Spitting at cops doesn't lead to diseases, judge says
Posted: Sep 28, 2012 4:41 PM CST
Last Updated: Sep 28, 2012 5:40 PM CST
Saying it's a myth that police officers who are spat at get serious diseases, a Saskatchewan judge has rejected a call for a six-month jail term for a woman with an assault conviction for spitting.
In the spring, Tracy Ida Ratt, 36, pleaded guilty to impaired driving and assaulting a police officer in connection with a drinking-and-driving incident in La Ronge.
Court heard Ratt was arrested after the vehicle she was driving was spotted moving erratically across the road.
She struggled with the officers, kicking and screaming and banging her head inside the police car before being brought to the police station. Once there, court heard, she kicked one officer in the leg and spat at others.
She calmed down for a bit, but then spat right into the eye of one of the officers — the incident that led to the assault charge, court heard.
Crown asks for 6 months
The Crown argued that there was a risk, although minimal, that the officer could have become infected with HIV, hepatitis C or herpes. She underwent considerable anxiety, visited a doctor and had to wait two weeks before she found out she was going to be OK.
The Crown pointed to previous cases where people who spat at police officers received jail sentences. The prosecutor pushed for the maximum sentence of six months for Ratt.
Instead, earlier this week La Ronge provincial court Judge Felicia Daunt sentenced her to time already served — five days — and six months probation.
"I want to be clear that I am in no way trivializing the well-being of police officers or minimizing the very real risks they face on a daily basis," Daunt wrote in her nine-page decision.
"They have an extremely stressful job."
'When we in the justice system perpetuate this myth without question, without evidence of the risk, without any fact-based analysis, we are feeding into this irrational anxiety.'—Judge Felicia Daunt
However, it's an "urban myth" that police get serious injuries after being spat at and the intense anxiety that officers and their families feel about saliva is not justified, she said.
Daunt said after reviewing the Crown's submissions, she concludes there are no documented cases of a police officer getting HIV after being spat at. There was a single anecdotal account provided about a Yukon police officer getting a herpes infection in her eye, but the evidence was not solid in that case, she added.
"When we in the justice system perpetuate this myth without question, without evidence of the risk, without any fact-based analysis, we are feeding into this irrational anxiety," she said. "This makes the job of the police officer more difficult and more stressful than it needs to be."
Convicted woman doesn't deserve jail: judge
The defence, which argued for a non-jail sentence, noted that Ratt was remorseful, having apologized to the officers, and had gone into substance abuse treatment on her own accord.
Also in her favour was the fact that it was a first offence. As well, Daunt took Ratt's early background, as a victim of physical and sexual abuse in an Indian residential school, as a mitigating factor.
"It is not necessary to separate her from society by sending her to jail," Daunt said. "She is not a danger to the public. She is a low risk to re-offend. She has made amends for her crime as best she could."
Under the terms of Ratt's six month probation, she's prohibited from possessing alcohol or drugs or going into bars. She also has to take alcohol and drug abuse counselling and treatment as directed.
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