Driving death charge dismissed

Court House-general1A judge recommended a restorative justice conference take place even after dismissing a charge of careless driving causing the death of a 19-year-old Leithfield man.

Christchurch District Court Judge Jane Farish said she believed that the meeting could have taken place even before the trial which centred on the driver’s mental state.

After dismissing the charge against 51-year-old Sarah Joy Mitchell of Christchurch, in a reserved decision, Judge Farish said: “Both families are good people. Both have got children. Mrs Mitchell is well aware of the sorrow of losing a child.”

Restorative justice meetings between people facing charges and the victims do not usually take place when there is a not guilty plea and a trial is still to be held.

The defence indicated the meeting might now take place.

Aaron Thomson-Clark, also known as Aaron James, was critically injured in the crash outside the service station in Waikuku on State Highway 1, about 3.30pm on September 30, 2014.

He was the front-seat passenger in a car that was indicating to turn right into the petrol station when it was rear-ended and “shunted into the centre” where a north-bound car clipped it, police said at the time.

The driver of the car that hit it from behind, Mrs Mitchell, had a judge-alone trial where expert witnesses gave evidence of her mental state.

Judge Farish said the experts ruled out epilepsy, but it was then diagnosed that she was suffering from Profound Dissociative Spectrum Disorder or Conversion Disorder.

The disorders would leave her for a period “quite involuntary” and having no memory of where she was and what she was doing. “It is almost like her mind switches off,” said the judge.

She did not meet the threshold for an “automatism” defence.

The issue was that Mrs Mitchell was afflicted by a medical condition that she had no knowledge of and no ability to control.

Judge Farish said she researched cases where similar things had happened.

She said that if Mrs Mitchell had known she could have these “episodes of white-out” it would have been reckless if she had continued to drive.

“If she had no knowledge that she was subject to these episodes and an accident occurred, she would be without blame – she would have a total absence of fault.”

“I am not satisfied that the Crown have not proved that at the relevant time, Mrs Mitchell was acting in a voluntary state – that she was in a position to avoid a collision with a motor vehicle that was clearly there to be seen.”

All the evidence pointed to what she said at the trial and told the expert witnesses, that there was a lapse in her consciousness.

“She was not unconscious, but she was not conscious for the purpose of braking, turning, or avoiding the imminent impact. The Crown haven’t proved behind a reasonable doubt that she was careless when she was driving that afternoon,” the judge said.

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