SENTENCING STATEMENTS

 

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HMA v Arron McDonald

 

Sep 28, 2021

At Dundee Sheriff Court today Sheriff Paul Brown sentenced Arron McDonald to 18 months' detention after the offender pled guilty to causing serious injury by dangerous driving. The Sheriff disqualified him from driving for 5 years and 3 months.

 

On sentencing, Sheriff Brown made the following statement in Court:

“You have tendered a plea of guilty to causing serious injury to two complainers by dangerous driving.  You drove onto a humpback bridge at excessive speed with the intention of making the car go airborne, thereafter losing control and rolling the car into a field.  One of your passengers sustained a dislocated right shoulder and the other sustained bruising and soft tissue damage to his head, two fractures to his neck requiring surgery, dislocated neck bones, two fractures to his sternum, multiple spine fractures requiring a brace, bruised lungs and the impact caused him to lose consciousness.  

The narrative provided by the Crown tells me that after picking up your passengers, you accelerated sharply through the gears as you drove out of Ladybank along a straight road towards a humpback bridge situated about half way between the two villages.  You were calling out your speed as you accelerated.  One of your passengers was concerned at your speed and saw your speedometer sat somewhere between 80 to 90 miles per hour as you approached the bridge.  As your car entered the bridge, all four wheels left the ground and you were heard laughing.  The car then landed heavily on the road and you lost control resulting in the vehicle rolling numerous times in a nearby field.  The vehicle was extensively damaged and one passenger had significant injuries including a dislocated shoulder, ligament damage and whiplash.  The other passenger had extensive and substantial injuries and required to be admitted to the neurosurgical high dependency unit.    It is clear from his victim impact statement and the information provided to me by the crown that this has had a completely devastating effect upon him. In addition to his physical injury, the psychological consequences for him have been severe.    

In selecting my sentence, I have had regard to the Scottish Sentencing Council’s guidelines on the sentencing process and the principles and purposes of sentencing.  In your case, and taking account of your age, I have also been cognisant of the Council’s draft guideline on sentencing young people. Although this has not yet been approved by the High Court of Justiciary, it has been finalised and is to be presented for approval shortly. I am aware that the practices and principles contained therein reflect an approach to sentencing young people which the appeal court has on a number of occasions set out and I have taken it into account.  I am mindful of the terms of section 207(3) of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 which stipulates that I should not impose a period of detention upon you unless no other method of dealing with you is appropriate. I also note that the appeal court in Scotland has approved of use of the guidelines on death by dangerous driving issued by the Sentencing Council of England and Wales in cases such as this.  I am, however, aware that I must not approach these guidelines in a manner which is too rigid or mechanistic.   Rather, it is available as a means of “cross-check” on the sentence reached.   

Beginning with an assessment of the nature and seriousness of the offence, I must look at your culpability and the harm caused, or which might have been caused, by the offence.  In doing so, I note that you were reckless as to whether harm occurred and there was a degree of planning and premeditation on your part.  You should have known the risks that would arise from your actions even though you did not intend to cause the harm that resulted.   I am satisfied that the standard of driving here is at the upper end of the spectrum in terms of seriousness.  It may be argued that your driving should be characterised as driving that created a substantial risk of danger, however, I am satisfied that what I am dealing with is somewhat more serious than that and it is appropriate to describe the standard of driving as a prolonged and deliberate course of bad driving with a disregard for the danger being caused to others.  Your harsh acceleration proceeded for some considerable distance as you approached the bridge.  In fact, you accelerated harder as you approached the bridge, laughing as you did so.  This was deliberate risk-taking at high speed in very dangerous circumstances.  You took a deliberate decision to ignore the rules of road safety in circumstances which inevitably caused very considerable danger to others.  Turning to the guideline issued by the Sentencing Council of England and Wales as a cross-check, I am fortified in this view.  Level 1 is described as “offences encompassing driving that involved a deliberate decision to ignore (or a flagrant disregard for) the rules of the road and an apparent disregard for the great danger being caused to others.”  That seems to me to be an appropriate description of the standard of driving in this case and I can also draw guidance from the fact that the Court of Appeal in England have drawn similar conclusions in very similar circumstances

In terms of harm, as I have already indicated, this again falls at the upper end of the scale with you having inflicted significant injury on one passenger and substantial and life-altering injury on another. There has been an especially serious physical and psychological effect on the latter victim.  There is no doubt that the risk for greater harm was also present. 

Set against all of that, is the question of your age and lack of maturity.  I have listened very carefully to the mitigation advanced on your behalf and agree with many of the submissions made which are in line with the experience of the courts. The courts have long recognised, and the recent work of the Scottish Sentencing Council has confirmed, that at your age you may be less likely to make appropriate decisions and may find it more difficult to think about what may happen as a result of your actions, including any impact on victims and others.  I do not only have regard to your age when assessing your maturity but also the other information placed before me including your conduct at the time of the offence and the attitudes displayed by you in your interview with the social worker compiling the report before me.  It is clear to me that you are a young man who lacks maturityAll of that combined reduces the level of culpability on your part and accordingly reduces the seriousness of the offence although I should be clear that even taking that into account, this remains, in my view, a very serious offence.

In selecting the sentencing range, I also have to consider your age and the fact that the primary consideration for me in sentencing you is rehabilitation.  In this case, I am satisfied that I have the information I require about your personal circumstances before me both in mitigation and in the Criminal Justice Social Work Report to proceed to sentence.  There are no addiction issues to be addressed and you are in good physical health but I also note that you too have suffered psychological consequences from your offending.   I see you have a good record of education and employment.  There is nothing to suggest you have had adverse childhood experiences and you have a stable living environment.  I have to ensure that the sentence imposed takes account of your particular and individual circumstances.  I am of the view that a sentence of detention is likely to have more of an adverse effect on you than an older person because of your age, maturity and personal experiences.    However, I am mindful that the sentence must reduce the likelihood of further offending, and give you an opportunity to understand the consequences of your offending behaviour.  It seems to me, in this case, that bringing home to you the seriousness of your offending would be the most effective means of addressing the underlying causes of that behaviour.   I have to sentence you in such a way as to reduce the likelihood of the your being stigmatised.  I note that you have already experienced stigma in your community as a result of this offence and I consider that an appropriate punishment may well reduce that level of stigma in your case.  I have to temper any sentence imposed in such a way as to assist in developing or maintaining your positive relationships.   In your case, it seems to me, that the most effective means of achieving that is a reduction in the length of the sentence I would otherwise have imposed. 

I note in mitigation your lack of any previous convictions, the impact on you of this offence and your previous good character.  I note the remorse you have expressed although I also see that this is tempered to a degree by a lack of insight into the impact of your offending on your victims.  I also note that you were a relatively inexperienced driver.

However, taking all of that into account, I am of the view that the gravity of this offence is such that a period of detention is necessary and there is no other appropriate method of dealing with you.   For the reasons I have stated with particular regard to your age and lack of maturity, the starting point for my sentence both in terms of detention and disqualification is significantly lower than it otherwise would have been.

Had it not been for your plea of guilty, I would have sentenced you to 2 years detention.  I will modify that sentence to 18 months detention to take account of your plea.  Your licence will also be endorsed and you will be disqualified from holding or obtaining a driving licence for a period of 4 years and 6 months, modified from 6 years for the timing of your plea.  I require to add the period you will likely spend in detention to this period of disqualification meaning the total period of disqualification will be 5 years and 3 months.  I also order that you must sit the extended test of competence upon completion of your period of disqualification before you can obtain a driving licence.”

28 September 2021