A Newfoundland man who pleaded guilty to assaulting his ex-girlfriend has been given an absolute discharge in part because his lawyer argued a criminal record would impact his ability to go to university.
An absolute discharge means that despite pleading guilty, the perpetrator will not have a criminal record and there are no probation conditions.
Lancelot Saunders, 20, pleaded guilty to assaulting his ex-girlfriend Aden Savoie, 19, in a St. John’s courtroom December 1. Saunders had also been charged with breaching one of this conditions of his arrest for contacting Savoie, but the charge was withdrawn because he decided to plead guilty.
Judge Lori Marshall granted him an absolute discharge because she didn’t want to prevent him from being “very successful in life.”
According to the statements of fact read aloud in court, Saunders pulled Savoie’s hair, pushed her, and hit her with a coat hanger on April 9. They were dating at the time. She was left with bruises and reported the incident to police a few days later.
The Crown attorney, Jennifer Lundrigan, recommended Saunders be given a suspended sentence with one year of probation, including counselling and treatment for anger management and substance abuse, as well as a firearms ban and a DNA order. Saunders' defence attorney, Candace Summers recommended an absolute discharge or, at most, six months of probation. Summers said Saunders has been on medication for his generalized anxiety disorder and is planning on going to university next year.
“He had a lower grade in his chemistry course and he’s just looking to redo that ...at which time he will be able to apply for Memorial University,” she said, noting he “did extremely well in his advanced math courses.”
Referring to scratches from the fight that were left on Saunders’ arms, she said “it wasn’t exactly a one-sided incident.”
Savoie told VICE she scratched Saunders' arms because he was pulling her hair and she was trying to get away from him. Breaking down in tears, she said “he was so aggravated from taking prescription drugs” that he repeatedly hit her after they got into a fight over her cellphone. Saunders had been borrowing it, she said, and she wanted it back.
On the night in question, she said she was staying over at Saunders’ place because she was fighting with her parents. After he hit her, she left the house for a bit but she came back because she felt she had nowhere else to go. She said he asked her “Are you still going to be pissy about what happened or are you going to act like it’s fine?”
She said she wanted him to go to rehab, but when he refused, she decided to report the incident to police. Saunders initially pleaded not guilty.
Though she said she was scared to testify, she was prepared to do so, but before the trial was scheduled to start, he agree to a plea deal instead.
“We took that as a win,” Savoie told VICE. But when she found out that he’d been let go with virtually no consequences, she was devastated.
In her reasons for sentencing, Judge Marshall focused heavily on what could happen to Saunders if he had a criminal record. She spoke for almost 15 minutes, but did not at any point address the impact of his actions on Savoie.
“I have no reason to doubt that you are a very intelligent young man who, if you get yourself on the right path and continue on that path, should be very successful in life,” she said.
She said “with respect to the drug issue, I’ve been told that you did have a period when you and Miss Savoie together were using drugs but that is behind you now.”
Saunders' Instagram handle is “ratiooxyocet”—oxycocet is a prescription painkiller. His Instagram bio says “it was a xanaccident i’m sorry” and features multiple photos of what appear to be prescription drugs, as recently as November 24. Of his 16 posts, 14 depict drugs, alcohol, or cigarettes.
Marshall praised Saunders for pleading guilty. He declined to make any statement of remorse prior to sentencing.
“It’s important to note that you did take responsibility for this altercation and your role in it and you are here answering to that by saying ‘Yes I did it. I accept it and I am going to be sentenced for that and I realize that’,” Marshall said. “I have to ensure that any disposition I impose on you takes into account your rehabilitation, your ability to get on with a productive life.” She did not mention Savoie.
“You’re a young person with your whole life ahead of you and the implications of a criminal conviction, a permanent criminal record, could have longstanding repercussions for you,” she said.
She noted that a conditional discharge would mean he would have a record for three years.
“Three years in a young person’s life when they’re trying to get things on track, trying to get into university, work programs, all sorts of different things, that could be crushing to you if you were showing as having a criminal record for three plus years from this point going forwards,” she said.
She also used the fact that Savoie did not give a victim impact statement as justification for not giving Saunders probation and a condition to stay away from Savoie. “She told police back in April that she was fearful of you but I don’t have anything recent from her to indicate that that fear is ongoing.”
Savoie told VICE she was not fully aware that she needed to provide a victim impact statement.
The judge also decided that ordering a sample of Saunders’ DNA for police records could infringe on his privacy rights, and she implied that he may have used to coat hanger to hit his ex-girlfriend to defend himself, therefore she declined to impose a firearms ban.
“It also seems that there was a situation going on at the time where you were the person who was on the bottom and Miss Savoie was on the top and you were hitting her with that (hanger),” she said. “This looks like it may have been used in a defensive action as opposed to an aggressive one.”
Savoie told VICE she wanted her ex to go to jail to deal with his drug issues. At first, she was hesitant for his name to be public because she was concerned for his safety.
She said she is shocked at this outcome.
“How can someone admit guilt and not get anything?” she said. “I don’t understand how the victim’s future isn’t the priority.”
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