Judge rejects defence argument man was suffering effects of road rage attack, not drunk

A defence lawyer tried to convince a Manitoba judge that his client was injured in a road rage attack, not drunk, when police found his car partly on a sidewalk by the University of Winnipeg, and the man slurring and smelling of alcohol.

Provincial court Judge Herbert Lawrence Allen didn’t buy it, convicting Damanpreet Singh of driving while impaired and sentenced him to a one-year driving prohibition and a $1,500 fine. 

According to the written decision of Allen’s May 9 sentencing, Winnipeg police Sgt. Grant Lindgren testified during trial that he was on patrol on Sept. 5, 2022, when he saw a car on a sidewalk, slowly rolling up to a concrete barrier around 3:40 a.m. at the corner of Portage Avenue and Balmoral Street.

After the car stopped, Lindgren saw Singh, who was the only person in the car, pull the keys from the ignition and drop them on the passenger side floor. There were empty cans of beer in the back seat and one of the back windows was smashed, with glass inside the car, Lindgren testified.

The officer said Singh had mucus running from his nose and dried spittle at the corner of his mouth. There was “an overwhelming smell of alcohol” and Singh, who couldn’t find his driver’s licence, had a stunned, blank expression on his face, Lindgren testified.

Lindgren said when Singh tried to get out of the car, he “basically fell out” and needed help to stand, according to Allen’s decision. He then told Lindgren, “I am only a little bit drunk.”

A second police unit arrived, and officers had to help Singh walk to that car so he could be taken for processing at police headquarters.

Lindgren and the two officers from the second cruiser — Const. Kyle Kroeker and Const. Jason Black — all testified that Singh was stumbling and slurring his speech, and had glossy, bloodshot eyes and breath that smelled of liquor.

Kroeker also testified that when Singh was in his cruiser car, he complained of a sore hand, saying he had been attacked earlier that evening and hit with a baseball bat. At the police station, Singh was given an ice pack for his hand.

Lindgren noted in his testimony there were reports over the police radio of a road rage incident in the general area earlier that evening. 

Defence lawyer Eric Wach argued the cognitive and mobility disabilities exhibited by Singh were more consistent with recovery from a traumatic event as opposed to gross impairment.

‘Jelly legs’ result of shock: defence

Wach said Singh’s mobility issues may have been “jelly legs” resulting from shock from that earlier road rage incident, according to Allen’s decision.

The broken rear window in the car also pointed to some recent violent incident, Wach argued.

He suggested Singh could not be convicted of drunk driving as long as there was some other reasonable alternative explanation. He also highlighted what he considered to be discrepancies in testimony by the officers.

But Allen disagreed. He found the officers’ statements to be consistent and credible

The judge didn’t dispute there was evidence to suggest “something untoward” had happened to Singh’s vehicle, but the smell of alcohol, the open beer cans, Singh’s difficulty standing and interacting with the officers, and his own confession of being “a little bit drunk” all point to impaired driving.

“In my opinion, the alternative suggestion made by the defence in this case is speculative and insufficiently supported by the evidence to raise a reasonable doubt as to the fact of the accused being impaired by alcohol,” Allen wrote.

“I am satisfied that the above noted indicators of impairment as provided in the testimony of the three Crown witnesses establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused’s ability to operate a motor vehicle … was impaired by alcohol.”