EDITORIAL: Crime and punishment

Barry Christiansen will not face jail time after hitting two joggers in a crosswalk nearly three years ago.

Nearly three years after he hit two joggers in a crosswalk on a dark December evening, Barry Christiansen learned this week that he will not face jail time.

The former Surrey resident was given a nine-month conditional sentence in Surrey Provincial Court Monday, meaning he will be confined to his home for a month, followed by two to six months with a 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew. He was also given a one-year driving ban and ordered to perform 150 hours of community service.

The two women he hit say they have undergone an extremely difficult recovery process since the incident –something the presiding judge took into account in handing down his sentence.

Judge James Sutherland noted, too, Christiansen’s history of volunteering in the community, and his strong family support, prior to delivering the sentence.

But he also considered the media exposure and public shaming that Christiansen has been subject to since charges were laid against him one year after the incident, reiterating legal opinion that such scrutiny constitutes a form of punishment in and of itself, and acts as a deterrent for others.

When such an incident takes place in a community such as ours, media coverage is bound to be intense. In this case, public interest swelled when traffic-camera footage was released, showing Christiansen leaning over the victims in the crosswalk, then apparently leaving the scene.

But while the footage stoked anger in the community at large, the presumption of innocence was always to be upheld, as it should be in even the most heinous criminal cases that have yet to have their day in court.

If public scrutiny – and shaming of the man accused – served as a punishment before guilt was determined, would the accused then not be unfairly punished had he been found not-guilty?

It should be noted that Christiansen only pleaded guilty last week to charges of “failing to stop at an accident scene involving bodily harm,” after his trial, set for earlier this month, was cancelled just a few days before its scheduled start date.

In addition to their physical injuries, the long, drawn-out legal process has taken its toll on the victims, who told Peace Arch News at the start of the sentencing hearing last week that they didn’t understand why it took nearly three years for the case to be closed.

While it’s evident Christansen feels remorse – he was visibly emotional while addressing the court – had he pleaded guilty when he was first charged nearly two years ago, perhaps the public scrutiny and shaming he endured would have been reduced.

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