‘In Camera’

It’s always sad — and immediately curious — when you see a pregnant woman in the prisoner’s dock in court decked out in the dull grey uniform of Remand Centre inmates. ***(see note at bottom)

Such was the case today with Laura Lee Monias, 34.

Monias, a mother of an 18-month-old and just a few weeks shy of having her second child, appeared today to deal with several charges, many of them for failing to appear in court.

She was picked up recently after months on the lam from a bail plan that sent her to live at an unlocked treatment centre, something often reserved as a last-ditch plan for people with serious issues.

She walked away from it after a week or two. She says she simply got another bed at a different facility. Who knows.

She also pleaded guilty today to her fourth impaired-driving related conviction since 1998.

Monias is at the point where mandatory minimums apply due to her record of getting behind the wheel while drunk.

I was conflicted. I felt sorrow for her and her predicament, but at the same time glad that she faced a guaranteed period of jail time given the risk to the public she posed.

After her recent arrest she was bail denied, likely prompting her desire to plead guilty and get the punishment over with.

On Jan. 29, 2009, Monias crashed on the Trans-Canada highway (it was minor, no injuries) while speeding, according to witnesses. Another car also wound up in the snowy roadside ditch.

Police who rushed to the scene suspected she was drunk after she admitted to  drinking at a cousin’s home in Winnipeg a few hours earlier.

In the car she was driving — she somehow had a learner’s permit despite three prior drive over .08s — was a beer cap and some open liquor.

She was also with her so-called driving supervisor who was also suspected to be drunk. Charges were dropped against him last year.

Her efforts to blow a sample in an ASD for the cops failed miserably — she alleged the act of providing a breath sample reminded her of being abused as a child in some way. I won’t get into it.

By my math, she was a few months pregnant at the time with her first-born.

What followed was a series of catch and release arrests as she repeatedly failed to deal with the charge, leading to her most recent detention and guilty plea.

Judge Careena Roller called her behaviour “selfish and dangerous.” The judge spoke of the lost trust between Monias and society because of her scofflaw attitude.

“That behaviour gets jail sentences. It’s just that simple,” Roller said.

But the judge, likely feeling conflicted as well, offered Monias a big break by sentencing her to the mandatory minimum of 120 days in jail (23 left to serve after credit for dead time is factored in).

But she also offered the soft-spoken mom concurrent time on three fail to attend courts and a bail breach from the absconding from the treatment centre — something she said she doesn’t normally do, and isn’t required to by law.

She’ll likely be out in time to celebrate the birth of her newborn in the absence of correctional officers. I’m glad for that. Mostly for the baby.

It’s just my opinion, I know, but while sitting and listening to her case, my mind drifted to what kind of life her kids would have if she doesn’t get it together, and  quick.

Monias’ isn’t some big story, certainly not one I’d expect to see written up in the newspaper.

But my reading of the public’s interest prevents me from simply disregarding her case — another that references a major problem society has, but not major enough to warrant real ink.

Regardless of what I may feel about it.

Booze rears its head once again.

Just pointing it out.

-30-

***

Hers was yet another case I’ve come across recently where it didn’t appear on the official docket the media gets every day. Showing up at these hearings draws stares from the lawyers.

The non-story that’s really a story

“How can this possibly be a story?”

This, a question asked of me this week by a Crown attorney regarding my presence at a recent court hearing involving a suspected drunk driver.

The case dated back to 2006. In the end, Judge Sid Lerner chose to acquit the 47-year-old man (now of Calgary) of driving while impaired. There were no injuries in the case.

Lerner’s reasons were simple. The Crown’s evidence in terms of identification of the suspect were themselves suspect and “tainted” by the arresting officers.

There was a crash in the North End, and a suspect fled the scene.

Police caught up with him behind his own home and brought witnesses to the scene where they identified the man as the driver.

At the time he was identified by them, he was sitting handcuffed in the back of a cruiser car.

“The unfairness” of the above identification method was prejudicial, Lerner stated.

Police methods “clearly tainted” and had a “contaminating effect” on the identification-investigative process.

UPDATE: Forgot to mention that the ID evidence was tossed even though the suspect had a set of keys a broken light from the car in his possession at the time of his arrest. 

During trial — one of the witnesses who stated he got “a decent look” at the driver involved in the crash testified that he was simply describing the accused in court.

As well, the admissibility of statements given to police by the accused was challenged during a voir dire and tossed out.

Both factors contributed to a lost prosecution, one that was set down for trial initially in April 2008, delayed till the next year, and finally wrapped up five years — five years! — after the suspect’s arrest.

Personally, I don’t remember what I had for breakfast (actually I do, it was nothing.) But realistically, how can a witness reasonably be expected to remember finer details of an event (one where things happened in rapid-fire succession) half a decade after they happened?

I’ve said here before that drunk driving cases are among the most hotly litigated simply because the stakes — a criminal record, the loss of one’s privilege to drive and the prospect of public humiliation — are so high for so many.

For many people, it’s worth the cost of a good defence lawyer to delay, delay, delay and ultimately fight the allegations, make Charter challenges about abuse of process, police tactics, etc.

I can point to a number of recent DUI-related cases in Manitoba’s provincial court where these factors loom large.

Here’s but a few: here, here, here.

Anyhow, I said something to the prosecutor about ‘justice delayed is justice denied’ and it was apparent he wasn’t really buying that.

To him, there was no story here, but I get why.

He sees the same things go on day after day after day. Files left hanging for years, the guilty walking free. It’s part and parcel of his job.

But to me, and I suspect some members of the public, a person police said was a drunk driver who walked free is a story.

I’ll leave it to you to decide why.

-30-

Impaired driving arrests, by location

Couple things:

Great feature by Adam Wasny in the WFP this weekend on the Checkstop program, followed by a good story from Welch and virtually all other Winnipeg media outlets on the successes of this year’s crackdown, which has already exceeded years past in terms of arrests.

I take issue with the service — and the media — trumpeting that the tactic of targeting bars and social venues as “new,” however. They’ve been doing this for a long while now.

Instead, it would appear that the service has boosted staffing levels for the Checkstop initiative, resulting in more checks and roadside arrests.

From Dec. 2008 – official statement:

Police will be strictly enforcing Impaired Driving legislation, targeting areas of the city where social functions that involve the consumption of alcohol take place. Police will be using all tools at their disposal, including physical coordination tests and drug evaluations, to detect and arrest those who choose to drive impaired.

My gut feeling is that the real tactic is a simple one: Add more bodies. Who knows, maybe MPI or the MLCC ponied up some dough.

Another observation: For the first time, the WPS is giving a short description of the events leading up to a drunk driver’s arrest, which helps the media ‘sell’ the story about the stupidity of drunk driving more.

And as much as I admire the idea of the story, thumbs down to CTV for their recent report about DUI convictions stemming from previous years’ Checkstop arrests.

Picking 15 cases at random and then reporting the outcome isn’t enough to say the “majority” are resulting in convictions. Especially when there were 57 + arrests resulting in charges last season.

Do them all, and then make some conclusions. I suspect the result would be surprising.

-30-