CIA employee Anne Sacoolas skipped bail when she was supposed to appear for her sentencing for running over and killing a British youth.
No. Your timeline is all messed up, the language extremely polemic and unbecoming of the case.
Impossibility to arrest Anne Sacoolas in the UK
First of all, the incident happened on 27th of August 2019. Police asked for a Diplomatic Immunity waiver to arrest Anne Sacoolas, as it appeared she was the prime suspect. On 16th September that waiver was formally declined, and Anne Sacoolas left the country on a US Air Force machine, on or around the 23rd September. As a result, she was neither arrested nor legally arrestable and could not be forced to take part in an interview. This was because she was covered under diplomatic immunity or at least believed to be so.
Interview with Anne Sacoolas
Only when Anne Saccoolas was in the US, around the 22nd of October, she did issue a statement that she was responsible for the death. Between then and the 31st of October she conducted an interview with the investigators that satisfied the prosecution. She did so without leaving the US: the interview was conducted by British policemen who had flown to the US only for this purpose. They could not arrest anyone there - they had no police power in the US.
Pre Trial Motions & Requests for Extradition
The trial was announced in December 2019, and Anne Sacoolas announced to not return to the UK willingly. Extradition requests for her were denied in January 2020.
In June 2020 preliminary hearings started to establish if she was covered by diplomatic immunity. The high court ruled on that on 24th of November 2020, concluding she was covered by diplomatic immunity. The judges used the words:
V Ground 1: Immunity
- Our conclusion is that Mrs Sacoolas enjoyed immunity from UK criminal jurisdiction
at the time of Harry’s death. We do not come to this conclusion with any enthusiasm
for the result, but it is compelled by the operation of the VCDR. [ Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations]
Permission to apply for judicial review in relation to Grounds 2 and 3 is refused on the
basis that they are not arguable.
We grant permission to apply for judicial review in relation to Ground 1, but dismiss
In January 2021, there was another extradition request, which likewise was denied with the words:
The United States government has declined the United Kingdom's request for extradition of a US citizen involved in a tragic vehicle accident that occurred in the United Kingdom
Our decision in that regard was final.
At the time the accident occurred, and for the duration of her stay in the UK, the US citizen driver in this case had immunity from criminal jurisdiction.
Wrongful Death Case in Virginia
A separate case for Wrongful death was filed in Virginia in September 2020, and hearings started in February 2021. The Virginia court found, on 16th of February 2021, that the Dunns could sue Sacoolas for damages in Virginia. This case ended with some sort of agreement out of court in September 2021, without details known.
The UK criminal case seems to have dragged on even with the High Court finding Diplomatic Immunity. How this happened, I could not figure out, but the trial was held.
On the 13th of December 2021, the Crown prosecution announced that the trial would start on the 18th of January 2022 with the accused appearing via video call. She wasn't arrested or had to post bail. The court date was delayed till the 29th of September 2022, and she attended via video link, as ordered.
The next scheduled date was in October. For this hearing, she was ordered to either appear in person or request to appear via video link. This request seems to have happened and it appears that she delivered her Guilty Plea via video link on the 20th of October 2022.
Sentencing only would happen on the 6th of December. Sacoolas again requested timely to appear via video link to this hearing, like in any session before. This request was granted. Or to quote the court:
The application made jointly by the prosecution and defence for Ms Sacoolas to participate and be sentenced by live link has been renewed.
She did attend via this video link. As she did appear 'by live link' as requested and granted, there could not be a contempt of court for not appearing. As she appeared to all court meetings via the requested and granted live link, characterizing her as skipping bail is not just evidence of bad and ill intent, but also plainly wrong: She did appear for court, as ordered, and thus did neither contempt the court nor skip bail.
In fact, the Sentencing Remarks says exactly that, pointing out how it came to be that she was allowed so:
Changes in the law wrought to Part 8 of the Criminal Justice
Act 2003 by the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022
granted powers to the criminal courts to permit a person to take
part in criminal proceedings through a live-link. The Chief
Magistrate granted a live-link order and you appeared before
Westminster Magistrates Court on 29 September 2022. Your case
was sent to the Central Criminal Court.
By participating by video-link at Westminster Magistrates you
surrendered to the court. When your case was sent for trial to the
Central Criminal Court by the Senior Magistrate on you were given
unconditional bail. Surrender to this court was accomplished when
you were identified as being present, again by video-link on 20
October 2022. You were arraigned and pleaded guilty to a lesser
offence, that of Causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving
contrary to s.2B of the Road Traffic Act 1988. The court granted a
live-link for your arraignment because in my judgment it was in the
public interest for you to be able to enter your plea and it would not
defeat the interests of justice if that was accomplished by you
participating through a video link.
At no point in these criminal proceedings had it been
suggested that you were not free and able to travel to this
jurisdiction in person. Once you had pleaded guilty and were
therefore a convicted offender there could be little reason in a case
where a young man had met his death, for you not to be required
to attend at court for sentence. Your bail was not withdrawn and
you were released from the court but directed to attend in person
for this sentencing hearing. I directed you to attend and observed
that attendance in person would be strong evidence of remorse.
For the purpose of s.6(1) Bail Act 1976 you had a duty to
surrender to the court. Failure of a defendant in a criminal case to
attend in person when directed to do so, without reasonable cause,
is an offence contrary to the Bail Act. It has the potential to affect
the court’s ability to administer justice by damaging the confidence
of victims, witnesses and the public more generally in the
effectiveness of the court system. Judges have to consider taking
appropriate action if there is no sufficient justification for a failure to
attend. The usual action is to issue a bench warrant not backed for
bail which will result in the arrest of the defendant when they are
Sentence was due to take place on 1 December. A week
before that date, on 24 November, the court received a renewal of
the application for you appear by a live link. This included reference
to harassment and threats you and your family had received,
mainly by social media and many emanating from the USA, and an
assessment that this gave rise to a risk to your personal safety if
you travelled to the UK. It did not include any reference to a barrier
imposed by the government authorities to your travelling to London
to face sentence in person. As a consequence of what the court had
received I asked the prosecution to provide a response to the
material submitted. Very swiftly, by 28 November the
Northamptonshire police compiled an operation which set out in
detail four plans by means of which your safety could be protected
if you were to return to the jurisdiction to be sentenced.
Accordingly, I maintained my order that the hearing be in
person. However a request was made on your behalf for a delay of
a week to obtain further evidence. This was allowed. On Friday 2
December a statement was served from Amy Jeffries your attorney
who accompanies you today. I granted the application [to appear via video link] on Monday 5
December. The reasons were that for the first time in these criminal
proceedings a barrier to your attendance emanating from the
American government was relied on in support of the application. In
her statement Ms Jeffries says, “The U.S. government does not in
any way support Mrs Sacoolas’s appearing in person at this hearing.
In fact, Mrs Sacoolas’ US Government employer has advised her not
to return to the United Kingdom in person for this hearing because
her return could place significant U.S. interests at risk. This advice
was communicated to her by her employer on 30 November and
she is not at liberty to disclose the communication itself or any
further information to the court.”
By s.51(3) of the CJA 2003, as amended by s.200 of the
PCSCA 2022 a sentencing hearing falls within the list of eligible
criminal proceedings for which the court has the power to make
such a direction pursual to s.51 (1). The power may be exercised in
respect of a person who is outside the jurisdiction of England and
Wales. But the power is subject to s.51(4)(a) which requires that
the court is satisfied, among other things, that it is in the interests
of justice to make the direction.
- The alternatives would have been to withdraw your bail if you
had not attended today. The result would have been a warrant for
your arrest which would have been extant until executed or
withdrawn. The issuing of a warrant for your arrest would have
been close to an empty gesture and it would stall progress in this
case. Another option open to the court would have been to conduct
sentence in your absence as you are represented by counsel and
the court has material upon which to proceed. It would have been
perverse to refuse this video link in those circumstances and on 5
December I granted the application, which remained a joint one by
the defence and prosecution.