March 20, 2015 - 4:22 PM
CLEARWATER – A judge acquitted a woman of her impaired driving charges after her lawyer argued the case violated her charter right to be tried within a reasonable amount of time —a problem in the small town of Clearwater where court time is unpredictable.
Last week, Provincial Court Judge Len Marchand said delays due to lack of available court time and space had “an extremely prejudicial impact” on accused Agatha Jarzebiak, 64. She was charged with impaired driving after police measured her blood alcohol content on April 25, 2013. She was handed a 90-day immediate roadside prohibition which stripped her of her license and had her vehicle impounded.
After Jarzebiak’s charges were sworn May 29, 2013 she made her first appearance the following month. Lawyers confirmed the trial date to begin Jan. 20, 2014 but adjourned it because witnesses weren't available. In their rescheduling, the only trial date available in the Clearwater courthouse was May 27 but the accused wasn’t available to attend that day.
The trial began Sept. 23, but Marchand noted in his March 13 decision “the Clearwater docket was very busy (on that date.)”
“There was insufficient time to complete the balance of the trial and Ms. Jarzebiak’s case was adjourned to fix a date for a continuation of the trial. On Oct. 7, 2014, the trial was scheduled to continue on Jan. 13, 2015 (when it completed.)”
Up until its completion and release of Marchand’s decision, the trial was delayed by a total of 21 and-a-half months. He said the delay caused Jarzebiak a high level of stress which negatively contributed to pre-existing health problems. He noted by losing her license, Jarzebiak lost care of her adult daughter with special needs.
Marchand said based on his experience, the trial could have been expedited if it was held in a location with more resources, like Kamloops where he usually sits. The judge did not attribute the delays to either Crown or defence, but said availability of witnesses and counsel furthered the length in time.
“Though most delay cases arise in very busy court locations, the same principles must apply to small communities,” he said. “So, while the government cannot be expected to have unlimited court time available in small communities, there remains an institutional responsibility to have sufficient court time available in small communities to try criminal cases in a reasonable time.”
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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015