POLITICS

Woman jailed for dangerous driving after Appeal Court nixes light sentence

07/09/2012 01:50 EDT | Updated 09/08/2012 05:12 EDT
TORONTO - A "thrill-seeking" woman convicted of dangerous driving for a crash that injured seven people had her suspended sentence overturned Monday in favour of a nine-month jail term and five-year driving ban.

In agreeing with the Crown the punishment initially handed Holly Rawn was manifestly unfit, Ontario's top court ruled the sentencing judge was wrong to impose only two years probation and a two-year ban on driving.

"The public can reasonably expect that when using our road system, their lives and security will not be threatened by unexpected reckless conduct by impulsive drivers such as Ms. Rawn," the Appeal Court stated in its ruling.

"The court’s response to conduct such as this — where drivers deliberately choose to use the roads to satisfy their own thrill-seeking interests — must include the loss, for an extended period of time, of the privilege of driving."

Rawn, now 44, of Hamilton, was involved in a crash in the early hours of May 10, 2008, that led to a jury convicting her of seven counts of dangerous driving causing bodily harm.

Court heard she and a friend had been drinking in a downtown bar and left in Rawn's SUV, ending up on a residential street with a posted speed limit of 50 kilometres an hour.

They came across a Nissan driven by Marcello Clazzer, who had six friends with him, including a teen in the trunk.

Clazzer began speeding, and Rawn followed, reaching speeds of at least 137 kilometres an hour, court heard.

The racing ended with a terrible crash that left Rawn's friend badly hurt and destroyed both vehicles. The others had injuries ranging from cuts and bruises to broken bones.

Clazzer pleaded guilty to one count of dangerous driving causing bodily harm. He was sentenced to 18 months probation, including three months of house arrest and a one-year driving ban.

When it came to Rawn's punishment, Ontario Superior Court Justice Kim Carpenter-Gunn decided both Rawn and Clazzer, who was in his 20s, were equally to blame for the crash and a similar sentence was appropriate.

The Appeal Court, however, ruled Carpenter-Gunn had taken the "parity" principle of sentencing too far.

For one thing, the court noted, Clazzer had shown remorse and pleaded guilty, while Rawn pointed the finger at him, and went through an eight-day jury trial and "hotly contested" sentencing.

The top court called it "troubling" that Carpenter-Gunn was aware of factors that would merit a stiffer sentence for Rawn, but instead imposed one that was actually more lenient than Clazzer's.

"The sentence she imposed contained little, if any, element of punishment," the Appeal Court said.

The justices noted Rawn was driving at nearly triple the speed limit in a residential area, causing serious injuries to seven people and endangering the lives of others in the community.

The court also noted Parliament amended laws in 2007 to exclude conditional sentences in cases of serious personal injury.

"Parliament has determined that conduct of this nature will not be tolerated," the Appeal Court said.

"It is necessary that there be absolutely no ambiguity in the message that such conduct is completely unacceptable."

The Appeal Court said a warrant could be issued for Rawn's arrest if needed.