Impaired Driving: Sentencing Difficulties

There has been a great deal of focus on impaired driving in the past couple of weeks as a result of the headline-grabbing Marco Muzzo case.

On September 27, 2015, Mr. Muzzo—heir to a billion-dollar family fortune—drove drunk after landing at Pearson International Airport in his private jet, which returned him from his bachelor party in Miami, Florida. While driving at well over twice the legal limit (with the upper range of the toxicology estimate being roughly three times the legal limit), Mr. Muzzo blew through a stop sign at roughly 85 km/h in his SUV and crashed into a minivan. Three children—Daniel Neville-Lake, 9, Harrison Neville-Lake, 5, and Milly Neville-Lake, 2—and their grandfather, Gary Neville, were killed in the crash, and two other members of the family were seriously injured. (

This case is devastating and a complete tragedy for all involved.

During the sentencing hearing last week, Jennifer and Edward Neville-Lake, parents of the three young children killed in the collision, left the courtroom as Mr. Muzzo addressed the court, returning only after he was back in the prisoner’s box. ( and

They were not present to hear Mr. Muzzo’s words:

“I am tortured by the grief and the pain that I have caused the entire family… I will forever be haunted by the reality of what I have done. I am truly sorry… I will spend the rest of my life attempting to atone for my conduct.”

“I know that there are no actions that can ever change what has happened. I know that there is no step that I can take to bring back your children… I pray that I could — but I cannot.”

During the victim impact statement, Ms Neville-Lake, looking directly at Mr. Muzzo, said quite powerfully and emotionally:

“I don’t have anyone left to call me mom… You killed all my babies… I miss my kids, I miss my dad, I want my old life back… I would not wish this horror I am living on anyone but you… You deserve to know exactly what it feels like to have every single child you created meet someone like you.”

I cannot even begin to imagine what Jennifer and Edward Neville-Lake are going through. In one horrific instant, their world was shattered and their family was decimated.

As Crown Attorney Paul Tait stated, “Every drunk driver makes a choice and in this case that choice resulted in catastrophic consequences for the victims’ family. An entire generation of the Neville-Lake family was wiped out in one fell swoop.”

Mr. Tait is seeking a sentence of 10 to 12 years in prison, while the defence is suggesting a sentence of 8 years, taking into account, amongst many other factors (including the lack of a prior criminal record), how quickly Mr. Muzzo took responsibility for his actions by pleading guilty.

While the judge, Justice Michelle Fuerst, is certainly not restricted by the proposals put forth by the Crown and the defence, it is quite likely that the final sentence will fall within this 8-to-12-year range (probably toward the upper end of that). Justice Fuerst will deliver her decision with regard to sentence on March 29.

In the press and through social media, there has been a great deal of outrage with regard to the length of sentences proposed.

While I certainly understand that cases like this are very emotional and often prompt widespread feelings of anger and rage, we must bear in mind that the legal system is supposed to be guided by calm and rational thought, impartial and dispassionate judgement, and clear, coherent, and consistent principles (in this case, the principles of sentencing).

Victims and their families must not be positioned as the decision-makers in the criminal justice system.

There is a reason that our society rejects the notion of “blood debt”—in Canada, there is no legal right to vengeance. Nor should there be.

As Mr. Tait has observed, “No sentence fashioned by any court would address this catastrophic loss.”



About Brandon Trask

Brandon Trask is a regular blog contributor and former colleague of Daniel Murphy and currently a doctoral student at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law. He was formerly a Crown Attorney in Newfoundland and Labrador. Brandon holds law degrees from the University of Manitoba and the University of Toronto.