Much mumbo jumbo followed our victim impact statements as the prosecution and defense discussed the few case precendents set in Canada for the relatively new law regarding “failure to give assistance”.
When the defense lawyer rose to make his case, he first turned to us and on behalf of his client, expressed condolences for our loss. He said nothing that happened in court that day would make up for that loss. He noted that we appeared to be people of faith and hoped that our faith would be a comfort to us. I was touched… briefly.
Then he turned to the judge and began to make his case for the immediate release of his client by saying the responsibility for the events of October 6, 2012 began long before the collision. Essentially, he blamed Paul for having been on the bridge. “The offences charged did not cause Paul’s death.”
Apparently it’s common practice for the defense to describe mitigating circumstances and the accused’s background prior to sentencing. He explained that the accused was an only child, adopted as an infant, bright and accomplished (he’d attained Grade 8 Conservatory standing in music), graduated from high school and attended college one year. As a teen he’d struggled with depression and his parents thought it might be helpful if he met his birth family. Living with that family for six months led him to an addiction. His parents then sent him to rehab where he overcame his mental illness and addiction. From there he came to Alberta to work in the oil patch, impressing his boss with his work. While in jail since February, he has at times been triple bunked and has suffered PTSD.
The defense argued that time served under such crowded and difficult circumstances (commonly counted 1.5 to 2 times the sentence period) amounted to almost a one year sentence and therefore, the accused had already served the necessary time.
The judge next asked the defendant if he would like to address the court.
I was surprised at how quickly C. rose and said he would. He turned toward us and seemed sincere when he said, “I am so sorry for my mistake… Paul will be a name I never forget.”
And then he continued. It was as though the first part was prepared (defense lawyers advise their clients that showing remorse in court can translate to leniency in sentencing) but the second half seemed to be a direct response to having read and heard our victim impact statements.
“I’m very thankful,” he said, with some fervency, “to hear your voices and what you had to say … I will always remember Paul and the Bertin family.” (I wasn’t taking notes so this is abbreviated.)
Court that day had a different atmosphere, difficult for me to describe. Less adversarial perhaps? The defense, as a group, more resigned?
When the judge returned with his verdict, he used the words of other judges in similar cases, describing the actions of leaving an injured person as “deplorable”.
The accused, the judge said, was solely responsible for the accident and subsequent offences. He made “a conscious decision to leave the scene and left a dying man on the bridge alone to suffer the indignity of being run over a second time, something that wouldn’t have happened had Mr. C. remained.”
C. was sentenced to 28 months, less two months for remorse expressed in court, a 2-year driving ban following his release and ordered to give a DNA sample. The judge said he did not feel obligated to give full 1.5 credit for time served. (It was the defendant’s fault he’s been in provincial jail since February for having run away from court in January.) A 30-day sentence for the public mischief charge of lying to police about his car being stolen is to be served concurrently.
So, 16 more months in jail and a 24 month driving prohibition.
It could seem as though this is the societal value of my son’s life. But we went into court fully aware that there would be no more than a 2 to 3 year sentence. As far as man’s justice is able, justice has been served. The legal system can only address what can be proven beyond reasonable doubt — and for all our sakes, we want it to be that way. A human judge can never judge the state of a man’s heart, or his thoughts and intentions if he doesn’t disclose them.
But God knows the full truth of what happened that night three years ago. While I rest in the promise of ultimate divine justice, I also shudder. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” I actually don’t wish divine retribution on anyone, and I pray C. will come to God for the forgiveness He so freely and graciously offers all who repent.