R v Langford (2009) H&FLR 2015-2

The Queen v Jessica Maree Langford (2009) H&FLR 2015-2

Melbourne County Court (Victoria)

29 March 2009

Coram: Judge Howie

Appearing for the Prosecution: Anne Hassan (of the Office of Public Prosecutions)
Appearing for the Defendant: Dermott Dann (instructors not identified)

Catchwords: Victoria – criminal law – swimming – alcohol – culpable driving – death – sentence

Facts: The defendant was aged 19 years on 29 November 2008. She and her boyfriend had attended Shoreham Beach late that night where they swam naked and drank premixed bottles of vodka and soft drink as well as a bottle of neat vodka.  After swimming they dried themselves with their clothes and the defendant (still naked) began to drive them back to Frankston.  At Hastings the car was involved in an accident and the defendant’s boyfriend was killed.

The defendant’s blood alcohol reading two hours after the accident was 0.09%.  As a probationary driver she was not permitted to have a blood alcohol reading higher than 0.00% (1). The police concluded that at the time of the accident the defendant was driving at 104kph in a 90kph zone.

The defendant was charged with culpable driving causing death and dangerous driving causing death. Magistrate Wakeling committed her to stand trial in the County Court: DPP v Langford (2009), Sydney Morning Herald, 8 September 2009.

The Crimes Act 1958 (Vic.) provides as follows regarding these offences –

[in §318(1 & 2)] – Any person who by the culpable driving of a motor vehicle causes the death of another person shall be guilty of an indictable offence and shall be liable to level 3 imprisonment (20 years maximum) or a level 3 fine or both. 

… a person drives a motor vehicle culpably if he drives the motor vehicle—

(a) recklessly, that is to say, if he consciously and unjustifiably disregards a substantial risk that the death of another person or the infliction of grievous bodily harm upon another person may result from his driving; or

(b) negligently, that is to say, if he fails unjustifiably and to a gross degree to observe the standard of care which a reasonable man would have observed in all the circumstances of the case; or

(c) whilst under the influence of alcohol to such an extent as to be incapable of having proper control of the motor vehicle; …

and

[in §319(1)] – A person who, by driving a motor vehicle at a speed or in a manner that is dangerous to the public having regard to all the circumstances of the case, causes the death of another person is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to level 5 imprisonment (10 years maximum).

The defendant pleaded guilty in the County Court to dangerous driving causing death. Her barrister noted that she suffered from marked pre-existing psychological problems, had a post-accident history including substance abuse, multiple suicide attempts and a diagnosis of bipolar affective disorder, and had been prescribed anti-psychotic medication. He noted that she had no criminal history.

The Crown submitted that the defendant’s mental health was irrelevant, and that her good character and prospects for rehabilitation did not alter the need for general deterrence. It was submitted that the defendant should be detained in a Youth Training Centre.

Held: Sentencing the defendant to a community based order and prohibited her from driving for 18 months, that –

1. The attitude of the deceased’s family, who forgave the defendant and openly supported her at trial, was relevant to imposing a lenient sentence.

2. It was relevant that the defendant’s psychological state was fragile and that her recovery would not be assisted by a custodial sentence.

Judgment

No written judgment is available.  This report has been prepared based on accounts in the Herald Sun (Melbourne) of 29 March 2010, the Daily Telegraph (Sydney) of 23 March 2010 and the Sydney Morning Herald of 8 September 2009 and 15 February 2010.

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(1) The limit in Victoria for the holder of a full licence is 0.05%.