driving related offence

Supreme Court Finds Driver Guilty as Risks are Reasonably Foreseeable When Driving Three Times the Speed Limit

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Earlier this spring, the Supreme Court of Canada determined that a reasonable person should foresee the risk of excessive speeding towards a major intersection and that this behaviour can be a departure from the reasonable standard of care required of drivers in Canada.

The highest court in Canada found that the trial judge in the case of R. v. Chung made two errors of law in a case of dangerous driving causing death.

WHAT HAPPENED?

On November 14, 2015, Ken Chung (“Chung”) drove his vehicle almost three times the speed limit towards a major intersection in a mixed residential-commercial area in Vancouver.  Chung crashed into a left turning vehicle, resulting in the death of the driver at the scene of the accident. 

A dashboard camera video caught 4.9 seconds of the accident showing Chung passing one car on the right and accelerating from 50 km/h to 140km/h before entering the intersection.  Chung was observed almost hitting a Toyota that was making a right turn in front of him and then colliding with the victim’s vehicle at a speed of 119 km/h.

The trial judge concluded that Chung’s speeding through the intersection was objectively dangerous to the public and fulfilled the actus reus (the physical act of the crime) of dangerous driving.  However, there was reasonable doubt as to whether Chung’s conduct met the mens rea (the intention, knowledge or recklessness of the accused) requirement for the crime of dangerous driving.  The test for mens rea in driving cases refers to a marked departure from the standard of care of a reasonable person in similar circumstances.  The trial judge held that the momentariness of Chung’s speeding did not demonstrate criminal fault.

At his trial, Chung was acquitted of dangerous driving causing death under section 249(4) of the Criminal Code (this section has been repealed and replaced with section 320.13(3) of the Criminal Code).  This crime requires two components:

  1. The prohibited conduct:  Operating a motor vehicle in a dangerous manner resulting in death; and
  2. The required degree of fault:  A marked departure from the standard of care that a reasonable person would have exercised while driving in the circumstances when the incident occurred.

On appeal, it was found that the trial judge had erred in law by finding that Chung had lacked the mens rea of the driving offence, and in finding that the momentary acceleration in speed could not satisfy the mens rea component of the crime  Therefore, the acquittal was overturned and a dangerous driving conviction was entered.

Chung appealed the conviction and took his case to the Supreme Court of Canada (“SCC”).

THE SUPREME COURT OF CANADA DECISION

The SCC found that the trial judge made two errors of law by applying the wrong legal principle and by failing to apply the correct legal test by not assessing what a reasonable person would have foreseen and done in the circumstances.

Justice Sheilah Martin, writing for the majority of the SCC, found that Chung’s actions were not comparable to momentary mistakes that a reasonable driver may make.  She wrote:

A reasonable person would have foreseen that rapidly accelerating towards a major intersection at a high speed creates a very real risk of a collision occurring within seconds.  This is what actually occurred in Mr. Chung’s case.  Risky conduct at excessive speeds foreseeably can result in immediate consequences. 

… A reasonable person understands that driving is an inherently risky activity.  It is made all the more risky the faster we drive, the harder we accelerate, and the more aggressively we navigate traffic.  Although even careful driving can result in tragic consequences, some conduct is so dangerous that it deserves criminal sanctions.

The SCC concluded that the test for mens rea is whether a reasonable person would have foreseen the immediate risk of travelling almost three times the speed limit towards a major intersection.  Therefore, it held that Chung’s driving was a “marked departure from the norm”.

Justice Martin warned that there may be cases where excessive speed may not be a discrepancy from the standard of care.  She explained:

Only when there has been an active engagement with the full picture of what occurred can the trial judge determine whether the accused’s conduct was a marked departure from the conduct of a reasonable and prudent driver.

The SCC dismissed the appeal and restored Chung’s conviction.

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.