(Ottawa) The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that a four-year mandatory minimum sentence for shooting a home is unconstitutional because it would constitute cruel and unusual punishment.
In a related ruling on Friday, the Supreme Court said two other minimum sentences for armed robbery offenses were not excessive and therefore constitutional.
The Supreme Court confirmed and expanded the framework for evaluating challenges to the constitutionality of mandatory minimum sentences under the cruel and unusual treatment or punishment clause of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The nation’s highest court heard the case of Jesse Dallas Hills, who pleaded guilty to four charges stemming from a May 2014 incident in Lethbridge, Alta.
The accused brandished a baseball bat and opened fire on a car with a large game rifle, smashed the window of an unoccupied vehicle and opened fire on a house where a couple and their two children were staying.
Mr. Hills consumed a large amount of prescription drugs and alcohol, and he said he had no recollection of those events.
He argued that a minimum sentence of four years in prison for recklessly pointing a firearm in the direction of a house or other building was in effect and therefore constituted cruel and unusual punishment under the Charter of Rights.
The sentencing judge agreed at first instance and sentenced Mr Hills to three and a half years in prison.
But the Alberta Court of Appeal overturned the constitutional invalidity of the four-year sentence and reinstated the sentence.
Mr. In allowing Hills’ appeal, the Supreme Court agreed that the four-year mandatory minimum sentence was grossly disproportionate. The Supreme Court recalled that a teenager could very well unload a paintball gun, for example, in the direction of a house as part of the game, to pass the time or make a bad shot.
“A mandatory minimum sentence cannot be justified by deterrence and deterrence alone, and this sentence shows a complete disregard for sentencing standards,” Justice Sheila Martin wrote for the court’s majority.
“Mandatory imprisonment can cause significant harm to a young offender and it shocks the conscience of Canadians to learn that an offender can be sentenced to four years in prison for firing a paintball gun at a home. »
However, the Liberal government already overturned this particular mandatory minimum sentence, among others, after a case was heard in the Alberta Court of Appeal.
In a related ruling involving two other Alberta cases, the Supreme Court held that mandatory minimum sentences for two armed robbery offenses did not constitute cruel and unusual punishment.
A first offense with a prohibited or prohibited firearm carries a minimum sentence of five years in prison.
A second offense of robbery with an ordinary firearm carried a minimum sentence of four years on appeal, but that minimum sentence was overturned.
A majority of the Supreme Court held that Parliament had the right to enact mandatory minimum sentences indicating that disregard for the life and safety of others in the handling of firearms is a misdemeanor.
General deterrence is required when a firearm is displayed and endangers the safety of others, the court added.
The nation’s top court has said the framework for challenges to mandatory minimum sentences under the Charter’s prohibition against cruel treatment requires a two-step trial.
First, the court must determine an appropriate and proportionate punishment for the crime that respects the sentencing objectives and principles of the criminal law.
The Supreme Court held that the court had to consider whether the provision in question required the imposition of a sentence which was manifestly disproportionate to an adequate and proportionate punishment.
This exercise involves examining the scope and extent of the crime, the effects of punishment on the offender, and the punishment and its objectives.
Judge Sheila Martin said the two-part assessment allows the court to focus on the actual perpetrator or another person in a “reasonably foreseeable” case, such as a teenager shooting an air gun or paintball gun.
“A reasonable hypothetical situation must be carefully constructed,” he cautioned.
Butme Martin said that some members of the Alberta Court of Appeal prefer to avoid using scenarios that could reasonably be expected from the court’s structure “which is completely contrary to both precedent and principle.”
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