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Car Accidents: Life Sentence for Impaired Driver

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Montreal, QCA precedent was set in Canada two days ago when a Quebec Court Judge sentenced a drunk driver to life for a car accident that killed a woman. Robert Walsh's blood-alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit when he struck and killed Anne Khudaverdian who was out with her dog in her wheelchair—on her 47th birthday.

DUIJudge Michel Mercier, who referred to Walsh as "incorrigible", rejected a request from the prosecutor to declare Walsh a dangerous offender, which is normally applied to repeat sex offenders who cannot be rehabilitated. However, Walsh is a repeat impaired driving offender: he had a history of 18 impaired driving convictions before causing the car accident that killed Khudaverdian.

Walsh pleaded guilty to impaired driving causing death, fleeing the scene of a fatal accident and violating his probation from an impaired driving conviction in 2005. With this life sentence, Walsh will be eligible for parole after serving only 7 years in prison. But if he was declared a dangerous offender, Walsh would have been facing a fixed prison term (the prosecution was asking for 20 years) followed by another 10 years under surveillance by the Correctional Service of Canada.

Judge Mercier said that judges across Canada have struggled with whether impaired driving causing death or harm is considered a "serious personal injury offence" which is part of the definition of a dangerous offender. "It is clear the intention of the legislator was not to include the crime committed by the accused within the definition of a dangerous offender," said Mercier.

The Khudaverdian family were at first disappointed with the sentence, but Clara, Anne's sister, later said the life sentence is significant as it will represent future cases and that history was made by handing Walsh life. Clara said she intends to press the Justice Minister so that in future, judges will declare an impaired driver who causes death a dangerous offender.

In the US, an impaired driver who causes death can be prosecuted for manslaughter or second degree murder. Most states make a drunk driving accident that causes serious injury a felony offense. And some states will take away your driver's license until you pay off a judgment against you for injuries caused in an automobile accident.

It's something to think about: if impaired drivers were classified as dangerous offenders, would they think twice about getting behind the wheel?


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