aggravated assault

12 Year Sentence for Vigilante Justice Upheld

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

The Alberta Court of Appeal, in a 2-1 decision, upheld Steven Vollrath’s (“Vollrath”) 12-year prison sentence for cutting off his victim’s thumb during an abduction in a case of vigilantism.

Two of the three judges at the Court of Appeal ruled that Vollrath’s sentence at trial was appropriate for the well planned “revenge kidnapping”.

The Appeal Court denounced vigilantism and stated:

Vigilantism undermines the rule of law and interferes with the administration of justice. As a general rule, those who engage in it should be dealt with severely.

WHAT HAPPENED?

In May, 2013, Richard Suter (“Suter”) was parked next to a restaurant when he and his wife began having an argument. He failed to put his car in park, and as the car proceeded forward, he unintentionally pushed on the accelerator instead of the brake. The car advanced onto the restaurant’s patio striking and killing a two-year-old child.

Suter was convicted of failing to provide a breath sample. The trial judge found that the accident was caused by driver error and not drunkenness. The Supreme Court of Canada reduced Suter’s 26-month sentence to the 10 months he had already served in jail.

While Suter was awaiting trial, Vollrath, dressed as a police officer, and two accomplices rang Suter’s doorbell and abducted him in front of his wife. His captors revealed that the reason he was being abducted was that he had hit and killed a child with his car. Suter was taken to a snowy field, his thumb was cut off with pruning shears, and he was left unconscious in the snow.

Vollrath was convicted in 2016 of kidnapping, aggravated assault, possession of a weapon, and impersonating a police officer. Vollrath had a lengthy criminal record, including violent and weapons offences.

SENTENCING PRINCIPLES

According to section 718 of the Criminal Code, the purpose of sentencing is to protect society and to impose sanctions that meet the following objectives:

  • denounce unlawful conduct;
  • deter the offender and others from committing offences;
  • separate offenders from society;
  • assist in rehabilitating offenders;
  • provide reparations for harm done to victims or the community; and
  • promote a sense of responsibility in offenders and acknowledge the harm done to victims or to the community.

Sentencing must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender.

In deciding on an appropriate sentence, the Court must consider aggravating and mitigating factors, sentences imposed on similar offenders for similar offences, and all available sanctions other than imprisonment must be considered.

In Mr. Vollrath’s case, the Court considered the following aggravating factors:

  • he did not act alone;
  • there was advance planning involved in committing the offences;
  • he impersonated a police officer with the purpose of facilitating another offence;
  • the incident began at the Suter’s home;
  • the kidnapping and assault were targeted;
  • leaving Suter maimed and unconscious in a deserted area showed a callous indifference to whether he lived or died;
  • the lasting physical harm to Suter;
  • the psychological impact to both Mr. and Mrs. Suter;
  • Vollrath’s extensive criminal record; and
  • Vollrath was on release at the time of the offences.

The Court is also obligated to consider background factors for aboriginal offenders and to consider how these factors affect the offending behaviour. In Mr. Vollrath’s case, the Court found that he had no connection with his aboriginal culture at the time he became incarcerated. Furthermore, the Court held that Vollarth’s dysfunctional background was not connected to his aboriginal history as his biological father, who was a Metis man, left him when he was very young.

In coming to a conclusion in her 2016 sentencing decision, Justice E. A. Johnson of the Provincial Court of Alberta felt that the most important objective was to “denounce the acts and to deter Mr. Vollrath and others from engaging in this kind of behaviour.” Justice Johnson also considered the objectives of separating the offender from society and rehabilitation. Therefore, Justice Johnson concluded that 12 years of incarceration were fitting given the seriousness of the offence, the degree of responsibility of the offender, the aggravating factors, and the need for denunciation and deterrence.  The majority of the Alberta Court of Appeal agreed with this sentencing decision.

WHAT COMES NEXT FOR VOLLRATH?

At the Court of Appeal, the dissenting judge held that Vollrath should have been sentenced to nine years in jail after taking into account the deprivations of his childhood.

Given that there was a dissenting opinion on appeal, Vollrath has the option of appealing his case to the Supreme Court of Canada. However, the Supreme Court of Canada will only hear a case if it is convinced that the case involves a question of public importance. Approximately 1 out of 10 cases that request “leave” to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada receive permission.

We will continue to follow this case and will report any developments on this blog.

In the meantime, if you have been charged with a criminal offence or have any questions regarding your legal rights, please contact the experienced and knowledgeable criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947. We offer a 24-hour phone service to protect your rights and to ensure that you have access to justice at all times. We are available when you need us most.

HIV Positive Status to Potentially Factor into Sexual Assault Sentencing

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Crown prosecutors in Saskatchewan recently clarified that an HIV positive man facing charges for choking a woman unconscious and then sexually assaulting her will not be charged with aggravated sexual assault. However, the Crown has argued that the man’s HIV status and the victim’s subsequent fear of having potentially contracted the virus should be considered during sentencing.

What Happened?

The sexual assault occurred in May 2015. The victim was on her way home after socializing with friends at a pub. She was accompanied by a friend until she was about half block from her apartment. As she cut through a back alley, she was approached by the man in question, who rode his bike alongside her, started making inappropriate comments, and touching her. The man eventually tackled her, choked her unconscious, and forcibly penetrated her before she eventually escaped.

After the man was arrested, the victim learned that he was HIV-positive. She was treated with potent post-exposure antiretroviral drugs and experienced six months of anxiety while she awaited her test results (which were negative).

Aggravated Sexual Assault

The Crown initially charged the man with aggravated sexual assault due to his HIV-positive status. Originally, the risk of transmission to the victim was considered the aggravating factor in the assault, however, the Crown reconsidered its original charge after evidence from an infectious disease specialist revealed that the man had regularly been taking antiretroviral drugs which suppressed his virus to a low enough level that transmission was “nearly impossible”. The man’s HIV-positive status, therefore, did not endanger the woman’s life.

He was still convicted of aggravated sexual assault, but it was because he choked the victim, not because of his HIV-positive status.

Prosecutors asked for a minimum sentence of 12 years, arguing that the victim’s fear of contracting HIV had been real, even if the actual risk of doing so was not. They noted that:

However low the risk is, the anxiety for the victim when she found out that this individual was in fact HIV-positive, is an aggravating factor.

HIV Prosecutions in Canada

As we previously blogged about, the majority of HIV-related prosecutions in Canada involve consensual sexual relationships which eventually led to prosecution because an HIV-infected partner did not disclose his or her status.

In 2012, the Supreme Court of Canada clarified that individuals with low-level HIV who use condoms when they engage in sexual relations, cannot be charged with aggravated sexual assault for non-disclosure of their status.

Since then, HIV activists have argued that the SCC’s criteria are too stringent and that medical advances in reducing transmission risk have progressed to the point that it is not necessary for individuals to have both a low viral load and to wear a condom. Experts have said that adding a condom to the situation “negligibly changes the risk” because the risk of transmission is already basically zero.

In this case, experts praised the fact that prosecutors recognized the reduced transmission risk, despite the lack of condom use, to determine that a charge of aggravated sexual assault was not justified.

Perception of Risk as Aggravating Factor

Both the Crown and defence lawyers recognized that, in this case, the victim’s fear of transmission could be considered an aggravating factor. However, the Defence is asking for a five-year sentence. Sentencing was delayed by three weeks in order to provide the Judge time to review a Gladue Report (a special pre-sentencing hearing into an Indigenous perpetrator’s background).

The provincial and federal governments are both currently reviewing the criminalization of HIV non-disclosure. We will continue to follow the developments and will provide updates as they become available.

In the meantime, if you have questions about your rights, contact one of the knowledgeable and well-respected Oshawa criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947. Our lawyers have experience successfully defending charges of aggravated assault and sexual assault. We will take the time to understand the particular circumstances of your case and work to achieve the best possible result.

Man Charged with Sex Assault for Non-Disclosure of HIV

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

An HIV-positive Toronto-area man has been arrested for a second time for allegedly failing to disclose his HIV status prior to engaging in sexual relations. He is facing serious criminal charges and a rare court order obliging him to use condoms and to inform all sexual partners about his condition.

What Happened?

The man in question was first charged with aggravated sexual assault in April 2017, regarding a relationship he had in 2011. He was arrested again this week on a second charge of aggravated sexual assault. In both cases, police claim that the man did not disclose his HIV status, and that the partners he was intimate with had contracted HIV as a result.

Court Orders Requiring HIV Disclosure

The man is subject to a rare court order that requires him to use condoms and to make his HIV status known to his sexual partners. This is only the third such order made under s. 102 of the province’s Health Protection and Promotion Act. The order was requested by Dr. Rita Shahin, the City of Toronto’s associate medical officer of health.

Such court orders are not often required since the vast majority of those with HIV take independent steps to significantly reduce or eliminate the risk of HIV transmission through drug use or sex, and most comply with orders to take precautions issued by the Medical Officer of Health. In this case, Dr. Shahin warned the court of an “immediate risk of an outbreak” and argued that the order was needed to “decrease or eliminate the risk to health presented by the communicable disease”

Since the man’s status was first reported to the City’s public health agency in February 2011, the agency has twice offered the man counselling on the importance of disclosing his HIV status. During the first of these sessions, the man was specifically reminded to obtain consistent medical care after he indicated that he was not taking any medication for the disease, which can lead to AIDS. Three years late, the man was counselled about implications of failure to disclose his status.

Current Law on Non-Disclosure of HIV

The court order and accompanying charges come during a time of controversy over the criminalization of HIV non-disclosure, as well as an ongoing review of current Criminal Code provisions on this issue. Currently, HIV-positive individuals who fail to disclose their status to sexual partners can be convicted and jailed, even if their partners do not become infected.

In March of this year, advocates for decriminalizing HIV non-disclosure protested outside of the Attorney General’s office, on the position that current antiretroviral treatments make HIV a manageable infection, and that the current laws dissuade some people from being tested because they may fear potential future arrest.

Currently, Toronto Public Health counsels individuals with HIV on how to maintain good health and avoid the spread of infection but does not issue public alerts, even in situations where an individual is known to engage in risky behaviours. Dr. Shahin notes that

Issuing a public alert would increase the serious stigma and discrimination experienced by people living with HIV infection and likely deter people from seeking HIV testing, which in turn could have serious ramifications for those unaware of their HIV status and their contacts.

It is up to infected individuals to take precautions and inform partners.

We will continue to follow developments in the provincial and federal review of criminalization of HIV non-disclosure and will blog about updates as they become available.

In the meantime, if you have questions about your rights, contacted one of the knowledgeable and well-respected Oshawa criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947. Our lawyers have experience successfully defending charges of aggravated assault. When you contact one of our lawyers, we will take the time to understand the particular circumstances of your case and work to achieve the best possible result. We are not afraid to fight for your rights and protect your interests.