TORONTO – A man who badly injured a woman when he tried to kill himself by driving his car into a hydro pole has had his jail sentence effectively cut in half.
In finding the sentencing judge had gone too far, Ontario’s top court ruled on Wednesday that Constantinus Dedeckere should be released after having spent one year behind bars.
“Without minimizing the seriousness of the offence and the impact on the victim, a sentence of time served and two years probation is fit and adequate to reflect the principles of sentencing including proportionality,” the Appeal Court said.
The case arose in July 2015 when Dedeckere, then 58 and on temporary leave from a mental-health facility in London, Ont., drove his Chevy Malibu at high speed into a hydro pole on a rural road, knocking out power to Port Stanley, Ont., and spraying debris.
A woman driver, 74, slammed into the wreckage and was critically injured, requiring surgery and rehabilitation.
According to court records, the married father of four opted to attempt suicide that day after the Law Society of Upper Canada notified him he was being disbarred as a lawyer.
Dedeckere, who had a long history of mental illness and failed suicide attempts, pleaded guilty to criminal negligence causing bodily harm.
At sentencing, 14 impact statements were filed with the court. The prosecution called for a prison sentence of up to two-and-a-half years; the defence wanted a suspended sentence and three years probation.
In October 2016, Ontario court judge John Skowronski accepted that Dedeckere was a first time offender, had pleaded guilty, and regretted what he had done. However, the judge called the “offence itself” an aggravating factor given the woman’s injuries.
Skowronski noted Dedeckere hadn’t thought his suicide plan through or considered how it might affect other road users.
“It is important to dissuade those who may be self-destructive from acting on such ideations to their detriment, and from exposing the innocent bystanders, as it were, to possible physical danger,” Skowronski said.
Skowronski sentenced him to two years in a penitentiary, followed by three years probation and a six-year driving ban.
Dedeckere appealed the sentence, arguing Skowronski focused too heavily on denunciation and deterrence, and failed to consider his psychiatric issues and rehabilitation.
The Court of Appeal agreed, saying the usual deference accorded a sentencing judge was not justified in this case.
Skowronski, the Appeal Court said, blamed Dedeckere for wanting to kill himself without considering how his bipolar disorder and depression had impaired his judgment.
“The sentencing judge determined that specific deterrence could only be met by a custodial term due to the appellant being chronically suicidal,” the Appeal Court said. “(But) specific deterrence has little relevance in the context of suicide, and general deterrence is a factor of decreased significance when sentencing those whose behaviour is driven by mental illness.”
The upshot, the court found, was that the sentence was unfit.
In re-sentencing him the Appeal Court noted that Dedeckere is now over 60, and alcohol and drugs played no role in the offence.
“There was no dispute that his sole intention was to kill himself,” the Appeal Court said. “He is genuinely remorseful for what he did. He has a loving and supportive family including his wife, four children, and two grandchildren.”
The Appeal Court sentenced Dedeckere to time served — the year he spent in prison — and two years probation.