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Dangerous Driving Causing Death

The following case highlights the Victorian Court of Appeal decision even where the motorist's own daughter was killed.

Sentences for Dangerous driving causing death inadequate


The Court of Appeal has agreed with a submission by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) that sentences for dangerous driving causing death are inadequate and should be increased.

The Court of Appeal made its comments in an appeal against sentence by Ricky Oliver Stephens, whose dangerous driving of a four-wheel all-terrain “buggy” caused the death of his nine-year-old daughter.

Stephens had pleaded guilty in the County Court to dangerous driving causing death and reckless conduct endangering life, which each have a maximum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment. The 38-year-old was sentenced to three years and nine months’ imprisonment, with a non-parole period of two years and three months.

In the appeal, counsel for Stephens argued that the sentencing judge had erred in determining that his moral culpability was ‘very high’ and that a Community Corrections Order should be imposed.

The DPP John Champion S.C. argued that the sentencing judge's findings as to moral culpability were correct and the sentence was appropriate. The Director also invited the court to indicate that current sentencing practices for dangerous driving causing death should be ‘uplifted’.

The Court agreed, saying that sentencing standards for “this category of seriousness of the offence” were inadequate.

“In accordance with this Court’s responsibility to provide principled guidance to courts having the duty of sentencing and to ensure that appropriate sentencing standards are maintained, we consider it is timely that we address the question raised by the Director,” the Court said in its judgment on 30 May.

“We have concluded that … we should state for the benefit of sentencing courts in future cases, that there is a need for a gradual increase in the sentences to be imposed for cases of dangerous driving causing death which fall within or above the mid-category of seriousness.”

The Court dismissed Stephens' appeal against sentence.

“Having received abundant warnings as to the dangers associated with reckless or improper use of the buggy, the appellant chose to exceed the passenger limit and place a nine-year-old child in an unrestrained position, without her own seat, in the buggy,” the Court said.

“As was accepted on the appeal, he proceeded to test the vehicle by driving it in a manner calculated to cause the buggy to lose traction, and thus lose control.

“All of this was done deliberately. The appellant exposed the deceased and his stepson to a high risk of injury which might properly be described as breath taking.”

View the judgment here.

(reproduced from the LIV news)

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