The Cayman Islands Court of Appeal reduced a prison sentence of 18 months to 12 months after hearing arguments last week in the case of Colburn Murray Martin, a Cayman Brac fire officer who had pleaded guilty to a charge of dangerous driving.
Martin was sentenced in the Grand Court on April 30, 2018, by Grand Court Justice Michael Wood, who granted bail pending the outcome of the appeal.
The defendant had crashed into another car while speeding and after drinking several beers on the night of July 2, 2016. The female driver of the other car suffered extensive injuries in the crash.
Cases of dangerous driving are typically dealt with by a magistrate in a Traffic (Summary) Court, but this case was so serious that the Crown elected to bring it up to the Grand Court, Crown counsel Kenneth Ferguson noted at the time.
He explained that, in the lower court, the maximum sentence is a prison term of not more than one year, a fine of $1000 or both. In the higher court, the maximum is two years or a fine of $3,000 or both.
The court had heard that prior to the collision on July 2, 2016, Martin had consumed several cans of beer. He was driving in a 40-mph zone when he drifted into oncoming traffic. An accident reconstruction showed that he had slowed down from 74 to 58 mph when his vehicle collided with the other vehicle.
Martin refused to take a roadside breath test and refused to provide a specimen for testing at the hospital. There were beer containers in his vehicle and he was on bail for driving under the influence of alcohol.
The woman was trapped by the steering wheel in her car for an hour before the Fire Department team could free her. She had emergency surgery that lasted nine hours. She underwent two more major surgeries and was bed-ridden for three months, Ferguson summarized. Her vehicle was a wreck.
Martin pleaded guilty to careless driving, but the Crown did not accept that plea.
When he then appeared in court for dangerous driving, the judge said the case came very close to being one of the worst possible to imagine. He listed all the aggravating features — speed, alcohol, being on bail for DUI, the catastrophic injuries caused to the driver of the other vehicle. Those injuries included fractures to both legs, fractured pelvis and ribs, a punctured lung and fractured hand.
At the time of sentencing, Justice Wood indicated he found it unsurprising that the Crown had not accepted a plea to the lesser charge of careless driving.
Both sides accepted that Martin had a long-standing drinking problem that amounted to alcoholism.
In arguing the appeal, Furniss said the starting point Justice Wood had used in passing sentence was too high. He said the maximum sentence should be imposed only for the worst cases and Martin’s case was not to be characterized as the worst.
Furniss also argued that the sentencing judge had not taken Martin’s good character into account. He was 26 at the time of the offence, and employed by the Cayman Brac Fire Service, where he was highly regarded.
A third ground of appeal was based on a number of “severe conditions” imposed when Martin was granted bail. He had to report to the Cayman Brac police station three times per week, he could not attend any liquor-licensed premises, he could not leave Cayman Brac, he was required to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and be subject to random testing.
By imposing a sentence of 18 months, Justice Wood had given a 25 per cent discount for the guilty plea, which meant that the “starting point” had been 24 months. Furniss suggested this was wrong because, even though the offence was serious, it was not the worst of its kind.
The appeal was heard by court president Sir John Golding, Sir Richard Field and Justice Dennis Morrison.
In their decision, Justice Wood told the defendant he would have been given the maximum sentence if this case had gone to trial. With discount for plea, the term of immediate imprisonment was 18 months. There is to be a two-year period of supervision afterward and Martin will be assessed. He will be prohibited from liquor-licensed premises.
His disqualification from driving, which began in May 2017, is for three years.