The man behind the wheel of a speedboat on Shuswap Lake nearly nine years ago when it plowed into a houseboat, killing its driver, has had his conviction upheld by B.C.’s highest court.
Leon Reinbrecht was sentenced to three years in a federal penitentiary following his conviction in 2015 on charges stemming from the July 3, 2010 incident that killed houseboat operator Ken Brown and left several other people injured.
Reinbrecht appealed his conviction on the grounds the provincial government waited too long to take his matter to trial. The 56-year-old has been free on bail in Alberta pending his appeal.
The legal proceedings against Reinbrecht have been protracted. He was not charged in connection with the fatal boat collision until 17 months after it had taken place. Another 46 months passed before he was convicted.
Defence lawyer Greg DelBigio argued in the B.C. Court of Appeal in Kamloops in October that Reinbrecht had a constitutional right to be tried within a reasonable time under legal framework laid out by the Supreme Court of Canada — a case called R. v. Jordan — the year after Reinbrecht was convicted.
The framework sets strict timelines for accused people to proceed through the legal process — beginning when a charge is laid. In Reinbrecht’s case, 30 months would have been the limit laid out under the new regime from the Supreme Court of Canada.
A B.C. Court of Appeal decision dismissing Reinbrecht’s appeal is dated Wednesday, Jan. 30.
The court found, in part, the complexity of the case against Reinbrecht made it a lengthy one — and that delays did not violate his constitutional right to a trial within a reasonable timeframe.
“The judge’s finding with respect to the complexity of this case, having presided over 32 days of trial, is entitled to deference and… justifies marginal delay that may exceed the presumptive ceiling,” the decision reads.
October’s appeal hearing was not the first time lawyers had argued on Reinbrecht’s behalf about delay.
Following his trial, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Sheri Donegan presided over a hearing to determine whether Reinbrecht’s conviction should be thrown out because it took too long. Donegan ruled that it should not and she apportioned blame for each delay.
Donegan ruled Reinbrecht had suffered some prejudice because of delay, but not enough to overturn his conviction.
In October, DelBigio asked the three-judge B.C. Court of Appeal panel to look at Reinbrecht’s case through the delay lens established by Canada’s highest court in 2016 — after Donegan’s decision.
“The sole issue in this appeal is whether or not, under the new Jordan framework, a trial has taken too long,” he said.
DelBigio focused on a specific period of delay for Reinbrecht between October 2012 and July 2013 — time during which Reinbrecht was applying through court to receive government funding to pay his legal expenses. In Donegan’s decision, she declared that stretch to be neutral as far as blame goes.
Reinbrecht’s income precluded him from receiving legal aid, but he could not afford to pay a lawyer to defend him against such complex allegations, court heard in October. He had to proceed through a complicated process to apply for a state-funded defence.
According to DelBigio, the Crown should be held responsible for those nine months of delay because Crown — prosecutors and the provincial government — could have signed off on funding from the outset. They did not and DelBigio described the process of financial disclosure required of Reinbrecht as a “daunting” one.
“It was a case which is far too complex for Mr. Reinbrecht to be self-represented and have there been a fair trial,” DelBigio said. “So there’s no doubt that a fair trial required Mr. Reinbrecht to be represented by counsel… It’s absolutely in the control of the Crown. The Crown can consent to an application.”
The appeal court judges found there was nothing unreasonable about any of the delays in Reinbrecht’s case.
“The net total delay was, in my view, reasonable,” the decision reads. “In any event, under the transitional exceptional circumstance, any marginal delay that may have exceeded the presumptive ceiling was justified.”
At trial in 2015, witnesses described Reinbrecht as piloting his speedboat recklessly in the minutes leading up to the crash that killed Brown. The collision saw Reinbrecht’s speedboat embedded in Brown’s houseboat.
The crash took place in darkness near Magna Bay following a post-Canada Day fireworks display. Reinbrecht’s defence lawyer argued during trial that Brown’s houseboat was not sufficiently lit.