Seizure of drunk driver’s truck sets precedent

OPP official calls judge’s order ‘great news’

Andrew Seymour, Ottawa Citizen

Published: Tuesday, May 01, 2007

It may only be one pickup truck, too mangled to even drive anymore, but by seizing the vehicle last week, the Crown’s office has set a precedent in the way it deals with chronic drunk drivers.

A Pembroke judge ordered Gene Eno’s truck seized Friday after sentencing the 56-year-old Killaloe-area man to three years behind bars, following his guilty plea to one count of dangerous driving.  

Mr. Eno, from the Round Lake area west of Pembroke, was charged on Oct. 27 after rolling his truck while driving on a rural road and then fleeing the scene.

Now he has a record of more than two dozen criminal driving convictions — 16 related to drinking and driving.

According to the OPP, the court’s decision to seize Mr. Eno’s vehicle — even though it was heavily damaged in the rollover — is a first in Ontario.

“We’ve seized and forfeited vehicles for other offences, but it is certainly a first for impaired driving,” said OPP Det. Staff Sgt. Tom Murphy of the provincial asset forfeiture unit. “From our perspective, it’s great news.”

Staff Sgt. Murphy said police hope the seizure, made under a section of the Criminal Code enacted in 2002 that lets the courts seize property that aids in the commission of an indictable offence, will be repeated in other jurisdictions.

“We are now looking for the tools that allowed the crime to take place. Without that impaired driver’s vehicle, you’ve got no crime,” Det. Staff Sgt. Murphy said. “To prevent that offence from taking place, it is important to seize that vehicle.”

The seizure was voluntary, since the truck was virtually worthless, aside from parts and scrap metal. Mr. Eno, who had already been handed a lifetime ban from operating a motor vehicle, would have fought back if the truck was salvageable, his defence lawyer said Tuesday.

In that case, Mike March said, the truck could have been used by another driver, such as Mr. Eno’s common-law spouse, or sold.

“I just didn’t see it as a huge issue when Mr. Eno had such a terrible record,” he said. “We treated it in the nature of a fine. In the very special and unique circumstances of this case, it was hardly worth the fight.”

According to Staff Sgt. Murphy, the application by Pembroke Crown attorney Jason Nicol to seek the seizure of Mr. Eno’s vehicle as “offence-related property” was only the second time such a motion was sought.

Police and the Crown first attempted to seize a chronic drunk driver’s vehicle in 2006 in Durham Region, but the judge ruled a break in the accused’s criminal record did not justify the forfeiture, said Staff Sgt. Murphy.

Police seized a vehicle from a repeat impaired driver in Burlington in January, but in that case, the driver willingly agreed to give it up without a court order, he said.

Staff Sgt. Murphy said prosecutors were initially reluctant to try to seize vehicles in the case of chronic driving offenders because of issues with storage during often-lengthy legal proceedings.
The province has since found a way to store them, he said.

Once the vehicle is ordered forefeited, the Crown makes arrangements to sell it, Staff Sgt. Murphy said. The profits from the sale then return to government accounts. According to Staff Sgt. Murphy, police do not receive any money from the sale of the vehicle.

While police believe the court’s decision sends a strong message to other chronic offenders that they could lose their vehicles if they continue to break the law, Staff Sgt. Murphy stressed that the law doesn’t apply to everyone.

“We are certainly not going to seize the vehicle of a person who is charged for the very first time with impaired driving and there is no previous history,” said Staff Sgt. Murphy. “There has to be a lot more to it. There has to be a significant criminal record and the circumstances that allow us to consider taking that motor vehicle.”

Brendan Crawley, spokesman for the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General, said prosecutors will continue using the law.

“The Crown used it successfully in this case, and as with every legal tool available to the Crown, we will use it in all appropriate circumstances,” he said.

With files from Andrew Thomson