In an unusual move designed to maintain public confidence in the justice system, a Penticton judge on Monday tacked on 11 months to the jail sentence he was urged to assess a woman involved in two drug-fuelled, high-speed chases last year.
Judge Greg Koturbash had been presented a routine joint submission by Crown and defence of 17 months behind bars for Breanne Alicia Buhler, but ruled it was too lenient.
“After considering the objectives and principles of sentencing and the high degree of moral culpability of Ms. Buhler and the gravity of her offending behaviour, I’m not satisfied the joint submission… is appropriate in the circumstances, and I conclude that it is contrary to the public interest,” Koturbash said in his reasons for decision.
The judge also noted he didn’t fault Crown counsel Ann Lerchs for the joint submission, because it was arranged before Mounties in Vernon notified her that Buhler was going to be charged for a chase there. Joint submissions are sometimes referred to as plea deals and are generally accepted as a way to save court time by relying on the expertise of the lawyers involved.
Buhler, 25, pleaded guilty to seven offences and was sentenced to a total of 28 months in jail. With enhanced credit for time served, she has about 14 months remaining on her sentence, which will be followed by two years’ probation and a five-year driving ban.
Court heard the spree for which she was sentenced began in the North Okanagan in July 2018, when she was nabbed for using a stolen debit card and possession of a stolen vehicle.
Two months later, she was involved in an eight-kilometre chase in a stolen truck on a Forest Service Road near Vernon that was brought to an end by multiple spike belts and a police dog.
And in November, she was behind the wheel of another stolen truck during an 18-minute police pursuit through the West Bench area at speeds of 80 to 100 kilometres per hour during which Buhler forced several oncoming vehicles off the road.
“Once a pursuit has begun, it is impossible to control all the factors that could lead to injury or death,” said Koturbash, who noted a troubling rise in such incidents.
“It is even more dangerous when the person being pursued is as high as a kite, as Ms. Buhler was. It’s no different than shooting a 4,000-pound bullet down a busy roadway without taking any aim.”
Once in police custody, Buhler began overdosing on drugs she had ingested and had to be taken to hospital. A search of her person and the stolen truck turned up a total of 5.5 grams of heroin, 2.7 grams of meth and 1.3 grams of cocaine.
Defence counsel Michael Patterson said his client had a pair of traumatic experiences during her teenage years for which she didn’t receive counselling, which eventually led to her self-medicating with hard drugs that she bought using the proceeds of crime.
Buhler apologized for her actions when given a chance to address the court.
“I’m trying to learn from my mistakes,” she said, “and I just need a chance to get myself better so that I can start to love myself again, because I forgot how.”