Criminal courts, sentencing, death by dangerous driving

Are all forms of criminal offences treated in the same way?

Students looking for material to use by way of discussion to illustrate an understanding of the jurisdiction of the criminal courts and their sentencing power in the Magistrates Court and Crown Courts might find this case of interest.  

The case concerns the conviction of 22 year old Stephen Toogood of causing death by dangerous driving after two of his cousins were killed when his car overturned.  Toogood admitted the offence and was sentenced to seven and a half years at Worcester Crown Court on the 29 April 2009.

Magistrates courts deal with some 97% of criminal cases and all criminal cases start in the Magistrates Court.  If a case is deemed to be more serious than ‘summary offences’ then they will be referred to the Crown Court.  This was the situation in the case of Stephen Toogood as it involved the loss of life.

The government does publish sentencing guidelines and tariffs but this does not always mean that the court's task is made any easier.  The difficulty here would have been how to balance the interests of the victims and their families with the need to protect the public and deter others from similar actions.  The problems seem to have been compounded in that both victims were only 19 and had their whole lives in front of them.

Drink does not seem to have played a part but the West Mercia Police were convinced that the incident involved two groups of friends racing each other in two cars.  

The criminal law is concerned with the matter of blameworthiness and here the guilty act was based around a day to day activity i.e. driving as opposed to something more obviously wrong e.g. robbery or intentional harm or killing.  The law however provides that standards of driving are expected and that in some circumstances a criminal charge can be brought.

As PC Andy Saunders, of North Worcestershire police, said: "This sends out a clear message to people that this kind of behaviour on the roads will not be tolerated."

"Before this incident they had all set out as friends and enjoyed a good day. No one set out to kill anyone but what started out as a bit of fun has led to two people losing their lives."

"Stephen Toogood now has to live with the consequences of his actions, but so too do the families of Shane Toogood and Sam Cox and our thoughts are with them."

No doubt the issue of causing death by dangerous driving will remain in our minds as a result of our attention being draw to cases of persons ‘texting’ and using their mobile phones whilst driving at speed.

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