Update: Sentence handed down for driving drunk while on temporary release

Most cases before Saskatchewan Provincial Court are resolved by way of a joint submission between the Crown and defence.

In nearly all cases, the judge accepts the joint submission, but reserves the right to impose a different sentence if they so choose. On Sept.9, the case of a repeat drunk driver had Judge Michelle Brass looking at the suggested sentence, and in the end put off sentencing until Sept. 16.

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Bernice P. Neisz, 63, appeared Sept. 9 by video link from her place in custody, facing charges of operating a conveyance while impaired, doing so with a blood alcohol level over .08, and operating a conveyance while prohibited to do so.

In laying out the details of the case, Crown prosecutor Mitch Crumley said on Sept. 9 that Neisz was already serving a 14-month sentence from a previous impaired convection. She was 3 1/2 months into that sentence, and a serving prisoner on a temporary absence when, on July 12, she was arrested for impaired driving. She blew samples of .150 and .140, in excess of the legal limit of .08. She had a three-year driving prohibition from March 20, following a one-year prohibition from the previous July.

“The challenge we have here is that for Ms. Neisz, simply that driving under the influence is unacceptable,” said Crumley

Defence attorney Joelle Graham said, “I think this is not a situation where Ms. Neisz doesn’t get the message. Rather, she hasn’t been successful in reaching the stage to remain sober.”

She had been working at a local nursing home and was “an upstanding member of society,” Graham told the judge. Neisz was in the process of selling her car at the time, but family issues came up, causing her emotional distress. Selling the car was intended to take away the opportunity to drive. That vehicle has since been sold.

Graham said this was not a justification, but an explanation. When Neisz starts drinking, “She makes stupid decisions,” Graham said.

Graham added Neisz would most likely lose her house, and doesn’t know if she would have a job waiting for her when she gets out of jail. These are significant consequences which Neisz understands, according to Graham.

She had served 5 1/2 months of her initial 14-month sentence, with 8 1/2 months remaining. The joint submission was to add a concurrent 21 months from that point, meaning the remaining 8 1/2 months would be served at the same time as the new 21 months. Additionally, there would be a 10-year driving prohibition imposed.

Neisz’ statement that “Here, you don’t get any counselling at all, which I miss,” had the judge questioning how much counselling Neisz would receive in a provincial correctional centre as opposed to a federal penitentiary. It takes a two-year sentence to trigger incarceration in a federal penitentiary.

Neisz clarified there were courses, but no Alcoholics Anonymous, or one-on-one counselling. It was group counselling.

She set the case over for one week to hear more case law on sentencing from the respective lawyers at that time.

On that day, Graham submitted three cases applicable for consideration, two of which came from the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal demonstrating sentences in a similar range, with one resulting in an eight-month sentence and the second of two years less a day. The third submission was a 2016 Supreme Court of Canada case which emphasized the importance of judges accepting joint submissions as offered.

That last one was key, with Graham noting the Supreme Court had ruled that a joint submission should not be rejected lightly, and there was an “undeniably high threshold” for doing so.

Crumley added that “21 months, going forward, is not insignificant.”

Brass responded by saying, “I did raise the issue of public safety. That was my primary concern.”

Brass’ pondering of federal time arose from Neisz suggesting there was a lack of programming for her in the provincial corrections system.

“In light of the submissions made, I will accept the joint submission,” Brass concluded.

Neisz got 21 months incarceration for the impaired charge and six months concurrent for driving while suspended, plus a 10-year driving prohibition.

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