Supreme Court hears appeal of sentencing in death of Geo Mounsef, 2

The Supreme Court of Canada heard a rare sentencing appeal Wednesday for an Edmonton man convicted of failing to provide a breath sample.

26-month sentence for refusing to provide breath sample is excessive, Supreme Court told

Richard Suter, along his wife, Gayska Suter, outside court in July 2015 after pleading guilty to refusing to offer a breath sample in the death of Geo Mounsef. (CBC)

The Supreme Court of Canada heard a rare sentencing appeal Wednesday in the case of an Edmonton man sent to prison for 26 months for failing to provide a breath sample.

Richard Suter was charged after crashing his SUV into a restaurant patio in 2013, killing two-year-old Geo Mounsef.

The trial judge sentenced Suter to four months in jail, resulting in protests from the boy's family and prompting the Crown prosecutor to appeal.

Eventually the Alberta Court of Appeal substituted a new sentence of 26 months, which in turn prompted Suter to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Relied on bad legal advice

At the Supreme Court hearing Wednesday, the Crown maintained that Suter's refusal to provide a breath sample was a strategic decision to avoid prosecution.

However, Suter's lawyer, Dino Bottos, told the judges his client had made a mistake of law when he refused to provide police with a breath sample, because he was acting on a lawyer's instructions.

"Although he committed the offence of refusal, he did so on the advice of a lawyer and he thought that it was lawful for him to refuse, given the lawyer was telling him to refuse," he said.

"That was an original mitigating factor which the original judge found, but the court of appeal overturned."

Bottos noted the trial judge found that Suter was sober at the time of the crash.

Geo Mounsef was killed in May 2013 when Suter's SUV crashed through an outdoor patio at an Edmonton restaurant. (Family photo)

Bottos also argued that the Alberta Court of Appeal erred in considering distracted driving as an aggravating factor in Suter's sentencing.

At the time of the crash Suter was arguing with his wife.

Vigilante justice

Bottos also urged the justices that vigilante justice suffered by Suter should be considered a mitigating factor in sentencing.

In 2015, Suter was taken from his home, beaten, and had his thumb cut off.

While the trial judge took the kidnapping into account, the Appeal Court did not, Bottos said.

Suter has been out on bail awaiting the Supreme Court hearing since February 2017 after serving nine-and-a-half months.

Bottos said he expects a decision to be handed down in the next four to six months.

About the Author

Nola Keeler is an award-winning journalist who has worked with CBC in Whitehorse, Yukon and Edmonton since 2000. She has worked as a host, reporter, news reader and producer for CBC. Send story ideas to nola.keeler@cbc.ca.

Nola Keeler