Joyriding Teen Pleads Guilty to Manslaughter in 2011 Police Death

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

A young man, known only as S.K., has recently pleaded guilty to charges of manslaughter for the death of York Regional Police Constable Garrett Styles. 

Following an appeal of his conviction and sentence, the Court of Appeal ordered a new trial for S.K.  Both the Crown prosecutors and lawyers for S.K. agreed on a plea deal.  S.K. was sentenced to two years probation and several conditions are in place regarding his operation of a motor vehicle. 

WHAT HAPPENED?

On June 28, 2011, 15 year-old S.K. took his father’s minivan for a drive with his friends, without his parents’ consent.

At 4:45 a.m., S.K. was stopped by Constable Styles for traveling 147 km/h in an 80 km/h zone.  S.K. was advised that the minivan would be impounded and he was repeatedly ordered to get out of the vehicle.  S.K. refused and pleaded with the officer to let him go.  Constable Styles proceeded to open the driver’s door and attempted to undo S.K.’s seat belt.  At that point, S.K.’s van began to move and Constable Styles was caught between S.K. and the steering wheel.  Constable Styles eventually jerked the steering wheel to the left causing the van to leave the highway, enter a ditch, proceed up an embankment, become airborne and roll 360 degrees.  Constable Styles was ejected from the van, which then fell on top of him.  He was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at the hospital.

As a result of this incident, S.K. suffered a spinal fracture that rendered him quadriplegic.

S.K. was charged with first-degree murder.  The key question at the trial was whether S.K. intended to drive away (alleged by the Crown prosecutor) or whether he accelerated by accident (alleged by the defence). 

S.K. was tried and a jury found that he intentionally accelerated and should have known that his actions were “likely” to lead to the death of the police officer.  S.K. was convicted and was sentenced to one day in custody in addition to time served (8 months) and a conditional supervision order for nine years to be served in the community. 

THE APPEAL

S.K. appealed his conviction on 5 separate grounds alleging that the trial judge made several legal errors. 

The three judge panel all agreed that the trial judge erred in failing to instruct the jury of the importance of S.K.’s age and level of maturity in assessing whether he knew his dangerous driving was likely to cause Constable Style’s death.

Justice Janet Simmons wrote:

This was a tragic case in which a police officer was killed as a result of the irresponsible acts of a headstrong 15-year-old.  In these circumstances, it was necessary for the trial judge to caution the jury that 15-year-olds do not have the same life experience as adults and that, as a result, a 15-year-old may not have the level of maturity to foresee the consequences of a particular course of action.

However, the judges of the appeal court panel disagreed as to whether the trial judge erred in excluding a statement that S.K. made to his father 26 days after the crash.  Following the crash, S.K. was intubated and unable to speak for three weeks. S.K. had told his father that he did not intentionally set the van in motion.  S.K.’s lawyers sought to introduce the statement as evidence of his state of mind during the police incident, however, the judge ruled against it.

Justice Simmons held that the statement should have been admitted “to respond to an implicit allegation of recent fabrication and to provide overall context for the jury about what the appellant had said close in time to the incident.” 

On the other hand, Justice Michael Tulloch and Justice David Brown ruled that the trial judge had made the right decision in not admitting the statement as evidence. 

On October 1, 2019, the appeal court allowed the appeal, set aside S.K.’s conviction and ordered a new trial.

GUILTY PLEA

Earlier this month, York Regional Police Services released a statement to confirm that a plea agreement had been reached between the Crown and S.K.  In coming to this decision, the Crown considered whether the family of Constable Styles could bear another trial and the impact another trial would have on witnesses, including first responders. 

Following numerous discussions between the parties, S.K. agreed to plead guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to two years probation and conditions were placed on his ability to operate a motor vehicle.

If you have been charged with a driving related offence or have questions regarding your legal rights, please contact the knowledgeable criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947.  Our skilled criminal defence lawyers have significant experience defending a wide range of criminal charges and protecting our client’s rights.  We offer a free consultation and are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  Trust our experienced criminal lawyers to handle your defence with diligence, strategy and expertise.