While our legal system is geared toward finding justice for victims, offenders sometimes need a break.
That’s exactly what a Yukon appeals court judge did recently for a young aboriginal man by reducing his restitution order to $9,688 from $101,088.
A restitution order is a legal demand that requires the offender to pay money to the victim of a crime directly to compensate for monetary losses arising from bodily or psychological harm caused by the crime.
In 2013, 22-year-old Nathaniel Heathcliff was driving on the Alaska Highway when he collided head on with another vehicle and injured Linda Miller. His blood-alcohol level was more than the legal limit. He took responsibility for the accident and his alcohol consumption right away and later pleaded guilty to impaired driving causing bodily harm. He had no prior criminal record and was released on bail. His bail conditions restricted him from driving. At the time of his sentencing, in January of 2015, he had been on a driving probation for 15 months.
See: Drunk Driving
Heathcliff was sentenced to five months in prison and the minimum one-year driving probation for first time offenders.
Neither Heathcliff, nor the victim, had car insurance at the time of the accident.
Miller brought evidence that she suffered losses amounting to $101,088 as a result of the accident — mostly due to lost wages — and the court imposed a restitution order for the full amount. The court also imposed an additional driving probation. Heathcliff was not supposed to drive for another three years unless at least $15,000 of the restitution order was paid to Miller. Heathcliff appealed the sentence.
Justice Maher, however, reduced the amount on the basis that the lower court judge had not taken Heathcliff’s ability to pay into account. Usually the offender’s ability to pay is disregarded only in fraud and breach of trust cases, which this was not.
Maher ruled that a large restitution order would financially devastate Heathcliff and wouldn’t help with his rehabilitation. He reduced the amount to a more reasonable amount based on the actual property loss Miller suffered. The judge added that if Miller wants to recoup future lost wages or damages for pain and suffering, she can bring a civil action against Heathcliff.
The Yukon Court of Appeal also cancelled the additional three-year driving probation as being excessive, because Heathcliff had already served 15 months of no driving and had no prior criminal record.
This is definitely a victory in favour of balancing the rights of the victim against the long-term rehabilitation of the offender.