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A man who pleaded guilty to impaired driving was spared seeing the inside of a jail cell only because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a judge said.
Justin Barnes, 36, pleaded guilty on Thursday to two 2019 impaired driving charges. He told the court he was at one of the lowest points in his life at the time and had hit rock bottom.
The first incident happened on May 17, 2019, when a Winnipeg Police Service officer saw him driving the wrong way down the street, Crown attorney Caroline Lacey said.
His breath readings were extremely high, she said, at 0.190 and 0.200 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. The legal limit in Manitoba is 0.08.
In the second incident, on Sept. 14, 2019, Barnes hit a parked car in Brandon while he was impaired behind the wheel, pushing the parked car into another car. He was also angry and disruptive with police after he was arrested.
Lacey asked Judge Shauna Hewitt-Michta to sentence him to a total of $4,500 in fines for both incidents, as well as banning him from driving for three years. He said he has made substantial changes in his life since September 2019 that resulted in a complete turnaround.
Defence lawyer Andrew Synyshyn agreed with the Crown’s recommended sentence. He said Barnes has been sober for approximately nine months now and steadily employed.
Barnes told the court he takes full responsibility for everything he did in the two incidents.
"I was in the grips of the worst binges of my life. I had been laid off — I had six years of sobriety before I was laid off … after that I spiralled downhill," he said.
"I screwed up again, and I’m just super grateful and thankful I did not hurt anybody at all and all I can say to you is I’m willing and here to accept whatever is coming my way."
Hewitt-Michta called the jointly recommended sentence "extraordinary" for the circumstances of the case and a very generous recommendation.
She said she rejects the suggestion that Barnes has made a complete turnaround in his life, instead saying he had made baby steps toward dealing with a lifelong addiction issue.
"This was wrong, it was dangerous — you could have killed yourself or someone else and you’re very fortunate that didn’t happen. There are all kinds of devastation and just terrible consequences still happening across the country by impaired drivers," she said.
Under normal circumstances, an intermittent jail sentence, where time is served only on the weekends, would be handed down, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic that is not an option, Hewitt-Michta said. The aim is to keep the virus out of the provincial justice system.
Instead, the judge said she had to "hold her nose a bit" and went along with the recommended sentence of a total of $4,500 in fines and a three-year ban from driving. She also placed him on probation for two years.
"Mr. Barnes, you are so lucky to be leaving this courtroom … and if you care about staying free and holing onto your employment and all that then you will continue to work hard at dealing with and controlling your addiction issue."
» Twitter: @DrewMay_
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