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Chilliwack judge spars with counsel over car thief sentence

The judge found a joint submission too lenient, but grudgingly went along with it

A woman who was caught behind the wheel of a stolen vehicle has received a time-served sentence of 63 days in B.C. Provincial Court. Judge Peter Whyte said the sentence was light even as he imposed it on Cierra Marie Childress, but because it was a joint submission between Crown and defence, he didn’t think he had enough grounds to make it longer.

Childress appeared by video at the Chilliwack Law Courts Friday (Feb. 24). She pleaded guilty to possession of stolen property over $5,000 and was in custody at the Alouette Correctional Centre for Women in Maple Ridge.

On a snowy day just before Christmas (Dec. 22), Childress stole a white Subaru SUV from Chilliwack and took off toward Abbotsford. A police officer spotted her driving west on Highway 1 near the Whatcom Exit, and when she left the freeway at the Sumas Road exit and headed north toward Mission, police were waiting.

Childress, 25, was eventually pulled over after spinning out in the snow.

Whyte questioned both sides on why Childress was getting such a lenient sentence when she’d previously served two years for a similar offence committed in Alberta. Crown prosecutor Cindy Kemble and defense lawyer Jonathan Waddington told him Childress’s horrific upbringing, status as a person of colour and mental health issues were the main reasons for the agreement.

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Waddington told the court she was bullied as a child, suffered racial discrimination and was pressed into the sex trade at the age of 13 after being forced to become addicted to drugs. Her mental health issues include diagnoses of depression and bi-polar disorder, and Waddington also noted that his client is three-and-a-half months pregnant.

Childress, who has no employment history, told the court survival instincts drove her to steal the vehicle, as she was looking for a place to safely shelter. Whyte accepted that her background played a role in her behaviour. He grudgingly went along with the sentence, although he said on the record that he thought it was “inappropriate.”

“The bar (to overrule a joint submission) is extremely high,” he said, suggesting he could only overturn a joint submission if it was so out of bounds that it suggested “the wheels were falling off the justice system.”

Whyte suggested that having a child can often be a life preserver that pulls people out of a life of crime, because they aren’t living just for themselves anymore. He urged Childress to turn things around, “otherwise someone else will be raising this child and you won’t be in its life.”


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Eric Welsh

About the Author: Eric Welsh

I joined the Chilliwack Progress in 2007, originally hired as a sports reporter.
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