No retrial after appeal in driving death case

Conviction for causing death by dangerous driving is overturned

The Court of Appeal on Thursday overturned the conviction of Dorlisa Piercy, who had been found guilty earlier this year of causing the death by dangerous driving of an eight-month pregnant woman after a single-car collision in East End on Aug. 14, 2011.  

The deceased was Karen Edwards, 25.  

Ms. Piercy, now 26, had received a sentence of five years imprisonment but was granted bail pending the appeal. 

Attorney Lucy Organ, who represented Ms. Piercy at trial, argued the appeal against the verdict handed down by Justice Carol Beswick, who heard the matter without a jury as the defendant elected. 

Ms. Organ submitted that the judge erred when she found that the vehicle was traveling at a speed greater than 65 mph and therefore erred when she found that the driving in the case was dangerous. 

Crown Counsel Tanya Lobban prosecuted the case at trial, but Crown Counsel Candia James responded to the appeal. She said she conceded these two grounds and asked the court for a retrial.  

Both sides agreed there were two issues: whether Ms. Piercy was the driver and whether the driving was dangerous. Justice Beswick said she was satisfied Ms. Piercy was in the driver’s seat at the time of the collision. Immediately after the collision, the driver’s seat was empty; Ms. Piercy was not at the scene, having been taken to hospital in a private car; and the car’s owner was trapped in the front passenger seat. 

In considering whether the driving was dangerous, Justice Beswick noted that speed alone was not sufficient to amount to dangerous driving. The evidence was unchallenged that the car was heading towards Bodden Town when it left the road in the vicinity of Half Moon Bay, hit a coconut tree and rolled over. The judge expressed her own view that the speed of the car was “even greater than the 65 mph estimate” given by defense witness Ian White, a mechanical engineer with 25 years experience as an accident reconstructionist. 

The Crown had brought a police officer and an accepted local accident reconstructionist to give expert evidence as to how the collision occurred. Ms. Organ challenged the police officer’s expertise, but did not oppose him giving his opinion. He explained how he had reached his conclusion that the speed of the car was 99.91 mph. Justice Beswick did not accept the officer as an expert in the particular case, given his limited training and experience.  

Colin Redden, who has testified more than 100 times in traffic reconstruction cases and whom the defense accepted as an expert, gave his opinion as to how the collision occurred. He had not been instructed to calculate the speed of the vehicle. 

Mr. Redden offered his opinion that the vehicle was traveling between 90 and 100 miles per hour, based on the damage he saw and the distance the vehicle traveled before coming to a rest. 

Justice Beswick said the defense expert’s estimate of speed was based on respected mathematical calculations, while the Crown’s estimates were based on “imprecise, out-dated and non-existent calculations.”  

There was also evidence that Ms. Edwards and another passenger asked the driver to slow down, but music was playing loudly and it was not certain whether the driver heard them. There was no indication of what the speedometer was showing at the time. 

After finding that the speed of the vehicle was “at least 65 mph but more probably greater,” Justice Beswick noted that the collision occurred near a bend on a two-lane roadway 24 feet wide. “In my view, driving at such a speed on a two-lane public roadway on which cars travel in opposite directions along both lanes must properly be considered to be dangerous, not only to the occupants of the car but also to any other user of the road who could have been there at the time,”she said.  

Recently appointed Justice Sir Bernard Rix delivered the decision reached with court president Sir John Chadwick and Justice Elliott Mottley. He said one of the reasons the appeal succeeded was that the Crown witness asked to deal with speed was rejected by the trial judge as an expert; the other expert had not been asked to assess speed and his offer to do so was rejected by the judge. 

The three judges agreed it was not in the interest of justice to permit a retrial. They said the evidence as it stood would be weak and it would be an error in principle to give the Crown a second chance to improve its case. 

The Traffic Law was revised in November 2011 to include an offense of causing death by careless driving; this offense did not exist at the time of the incident. 

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