Public Traffic Prosecutions 

Traffic Prosecutions Guideline

DATE: September 12, 2011

PURPOSE:

This Guideline is designed to assist prosecutors in making decisions in relation to traffic offence prosecutions.

Cross Reference: Decision to Prosecute and Disposition Agreements between Crown and Defence

BACKGROUND:

The Alberta Prosecution Service is responsible for the prosecution of charges laid pursuant to the Traffic Safety Act (TSA), the Use of Highway and Rules of the Road Regulation, Alta. Reg. 304/2002 (UHROR) and other associated regulations.  In Edmonton and Calgary, the majority of traffic offences are prosecuted by Provincial prosecutors in Traffic Court before Traffic Commissioners.  If traffic charges are associated with criminal charges, those tickets are transferred to criminal court to be dealt with in conjunction with the criminal matter by a Crown prosecutor.  In the majority of the regions, traffic prosecutions are handled by Crown prosecutors in criminal court, although some jurisdictions have dedicated traffic court days.

In the event that a TSA or regulation charge is laid in relation to a fatality, a Crown prosecutor is assigned to the file and the matter must be heard in Provincial Court as Traffic Commissioners do not have jurisdiction to hear fatality cases.   

GUIDELINE:

The Guidelines governing the conduct of prosecutors, the standard of prosecution and use of discretion apply to traffic prosecutions in the same way they apply to the conduct of criminal matters.  Prosecutors determine the reasonable likelihood of conviction, or the sufficiency of evidence of a given charge, and decide if it is in the public interest to continue with a prosecution once a charge has been laid.  Only cases where there is a reasonable likelihood of conviction, based on consideration of the evidence as a whole, and a public interest to proceed can be instituted or continued.

If the available evidence does not support the charge laid, or it is not in the public interest to proceed with the prosecution, the charge should be withdrawn before trial or no evidence should be called at trial.

The Public Interest:

The public interest factors enunciated in the Decision to Prosecute Guideline are applicable to traffic prosecutions.  Prosecutors should also be aware of the Alberta Traffic Safety Plan as reducing traffic fatalities and overall traffic safety are of major concern to Albertans:

The Alberta government has taken on the challenge of improving traffic safety by moving ahead with a comprehensive, made-in-Alberta Traffic Safety Plan (TSP).

Alberta’s Traffic Safety Plan: Saving Lives on Alberta’s Roads is a comprehensive strategy designed to reduce traffic-related deaths and injuries in the province. It outlines key initiatives to help prevent motor vehicle collisions, build safer roads, enforce traffic laws, and better educate all Albertans about traffic safety.

The Traffic Safety Plan was developed in response to the McDermid Report, “Saving Lives on Alberta’s Roads: Report and Recommendations for a Traffic Collision Fatality and Injury Reduction Strategy.” The McDermid Report was the result of an independent review of the government’s traffic safety programs aimed at finding the most effective ways to change driver habits and reduce collisions.

The Alberta Traffic Safety Action Plan is a three-year strategy that was developed to ensure that the specific activities of the Traffic Safety Plan are implemented in a manageable time frame.  (Excerpt from the Alberta Transportation Website, March 15, 2010) 

The effective enforcement of traffic laws is an important part of the Traffic Safety Plan as it contributes to general and specific deterrence of bad drivers.  The main contributing factors to injury and fatality collisions are impaired driving, speeding, intersection offences, and the lack of occupant restraint (seat belt) use.  Enforcement and prosecution of these offences contributes to public safety and supports the Traffic Safety Plan.

The convenience of driving is a privilege, not a right.  Motorists should understand that there will be consequences for bad driving.  One of those consequences is that drivers will be held accountable for their actions not just monetarily, but also through the demerit system.  The demerit system allows for the rightful suspension of a driver’s license when a certain number of demerits are accumulated.

In addition to those factors enunciated in the Decision to Prosecute Guideline, prosecutors may take into account the following factors in determining the public interest:

  • The seriousness of the offence: was there a collision, property damage, injury or a fatality?
  • The actions of other drivers in contributing to the collision.
  • The nature, condition and use of the highway: did the offence take place in a construction or school zone?
  • The atmospheric, weather or other conditions that might have had an effect on visibility or the control of the vehicle.
  • The amount of traffic that is, or that might reasonably be expected to be, on the highway.
  • The mechanical condition of the vehicle or any equipment on the vehicle.
  • History of the offender.
  • Personal circumstances of the offender.
  • Prevalence of the offence in the community or on specific highways/roadways and the need to deter the activity.
  • The risk to the public of further offences being committed by the accused.

Disposition Agreements:

When considering reducing or amending traffic charges, prosecutors are guided by the Disposition Agreements Between Crown and Defence Guideline.  In addition, the Decision to Prosecute Guideline sets out a principled basis for plea negotiations:

An accused person may surrender his constitutional right to a trial and plead guilty to the offence(s). Crown prosecutors must ensure that an accused pleads guilty only to offences that reflect the provable facts. Where appropriate, Crown prosecutors may decide to consent to a guilty plea from the accused to some, but not all of the offences. Further, Crown prosecutors may properly consent to a guilty plea to other offence(s) based on the sufficiency of the evidence, the provable circumstances of a particular case, or some other appropriate reason consistent with the public interest. In deciding to consent to a guilty plea in any particular case, Crown prosecutors must consider the sufficiency of the evidence of the accused’s guilt, the public interest factors in this guideline, any specific guidelines relating to the type of offence for which the accused has been charged, and the fitness of the sentencing options that would be available should the accused plead guilty.

Prosecutors should not consider amending or reducing traffic tickets only to avoid a trial on a charge where there is a reasonable likelihood of a conviction and it is in the public interest to proceed.  Amending tickets from one charge to another may be considered when the facts of the case conform to the other offence being considered.  For example, “failing to remain or return to the scene of a collision” is not “failing to report a collision”.  If the facts support hit & run, the case should proceed to trial.  Conversely, a “careless driving” charge arising from a minor rear end collision may be considered for reduction to “following too close” in appropriate circumstances.

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