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Woman driver in Matilda’s Corner fatal crash goes to prison

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Woman driver in Matilda’s Corner fatal crash goes to prison

Court of Appeal rules that she must serve her one-year sentence

BY ALICIA DUNKLEY WILLIS
Senior staff reporter
dunkleywillisa@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, November 08, 2020

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A woman who was convicted in 2015 of causing death by dangerous driving on Friday lost her appeal of a one-year prison sentence.

Ann-Marie Williams, a senior communications professional, was charged in January 2011 after her car slammed into a bus stop on Old Hope Road in the vicinity of Matilda’s Corner Police Station, killing two people and injuring others.

In December 2015, she was sentenced to one year’s imprisonment at hard labour on each count, to run concurrently, and was also disqualified from holding or obtaining a driver’s licence for two years.

However, immediately after being sentenced, her attorney, Lord Anthony Gifford QC, advised the court of her intention to seek leave to appeal the convictions and sentences. Williams was subsequently granted bail pending the appeal.

Her application for leave was first considered by a judge of the Appeal Court, but was refused on the basis that adequate directions had been given by the trial judge relating to, among other things, the ingredients of the offence of causing death by dangerous driving and the expert evidence and discrepancies. The judge also held that there was no basis upon which the trial judge ought to have upheld the no-case submission, nor was there any basis upon which leave could be granted to appeal the sentences imposed.

That refusal by the Appeal Court judge prompted the renewal of Williams’s application for leave to appeal her convictions and sentences before a full court (panel of three judges).

The grounds of her application related to the trial judge’s ruling on the no-case submission; his directions on expert evidence and her defence of automatism; incompetence of counsel; and whether the custodial sentences that had been imposed were manifestly excessive.

On Friday, the full court comprising justices Hilary Phillips, Sinclair-Haynes and Edwards, who heard the matter on February 25, 26, and 27, and November 6 this year, ordered that “the application for leave to appeal against the convictions and sentences is refused (and) the sentences are to be reckoned as having commenced on 6 November 2020”.

Lord Gifford, in arguing against the sentence, said, given that Williams has had to wait in suspense, albeit on bail, for eight years, it would be oppressive to uphold the concurrent sentences of one year’s imprisonment. He further argued that the presence of strong mitigating factors in the applicant’s favour made the instant case exceptional and rendered the imposition of a custodial sentence manifestly excessive.

Furthermore, he urged the court to take note of the fact that compensation was made to the families of the deceased women and to those who were injured, totalling about $8-million, derived from the applicant’s own resources and that of her insurers. He also said the fact that she had issued letters of apology to the families of the deceased was a positive feature.

On Friday, the full court, in its ruling, admitted that the pre-trial delay in excess of four years, and the post-conviction delay of approximately four years was indeed inordinate, but said no reasons have been advanced for this delay in order to facilitate an assessment of whether that delay had breached the appellant’s right to a fair hearing within a reasonable time.

“There is also no indication of the applicant’s attitude towards delay in the court below and her assertion of any breach of her constitutional right. Although, inevitably, there is some anxiety and concern on the applicant since she has had this matter hanging over her head for eight years, the applicant has always been on bail and so has never been subjected to any oppressive pre-trial incarceration,” the judges noted further.

Williams, in an unsworn statement in her own defence during the trial, had said that on the day of the accident she was travelling the road routinely traversed by her for years, every day, two to three times per day.

“I, too, am at a loss as to what took place that day. I was a young mother, doing my usual duties, and that day was no different,” she said at the time.

Williams, who prior to the accident had never been in conflict with the law, and had only previously received one traffic ticket for a seat belt violation, stated that the images displayed in court were hard for her to look at, and that “There is no way, as a mother, and my love for senior citizens that I work for, could I have deliberately, carelessly, or recklessly [driven] that motor vehicle to avoid a wall and send it into a bus stop.”

She also stated that she was heartbroken and, despite what the evidence, said she did not know what happened on that “horrible day”.

The maximum penalty for causing death by dangerous driving is five years’ imprisonment at hard labour.

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