Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Library of Parliament Mini-Review of Mandatory Minimum Sentencing

Canada's Library of Parliament periodically publishes Mini-Reviews, which are brief papers on newsworthy events or court decisions.

The most recent Weekly Checklist of government publications from the Depository Services Program includes a number of mini-reviews, including one on mandatory minimum sentences (document PRB 05-53E released in mid-January; available only to depository libraries).

The new Conservative government has committed itself to cracking down on violent crime, starting with new minimum mandatory sentencing initiatives.

According to the mini-review, there are currently 40 offences under the Criminal Code for which a mandatory minimum sentence of imprisonment must be imposed. They fall into 3 categories: firearms/weapons offences, sexual offences involving children, and impaired driving offences.

The Library of Parliament author writes that mandatory minimums are considered to be "generally inconsistent with the fundamental principle that a sentence must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender" but they are not necessarily unconstitutional.

The document states that studies show that a direct cause and effect relationship between mandatory minimums and a decline in crime rates can not be drawn; as well, given the many factors that can explain crime trends, studies on the effects of such sentences are considered difficult to interpret.

As well, mandatory minimums can have many incidental, or unintended effects: "(the policy) sometimes results in charges being stayed or withdrawn, or a plea negotiation for a different charge, because prosecutors consider the MMS [mandatory minimum sentences] to be too harsh".

And since the accused has no incentive to plead guilty, some fear that mandatory minimums can lead to costly trials.

Finally, the mini-review mentions that slightly over half of judges surveyed have found that mandatory minimums may hinder their ability to impose a "just sentence".

The document refers to a number of more in-depth studies under the auspices of Justice Canada:

Other recent Library of Parliament mini-reviews:

  • Land mines
  • The human genome project and beyond
  • Family-related employment insurance benefits
  • Canada's electoral process
  • The Ethics Commissioner
  • The Gomery Commission report, phase 2 - an overview

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posted by Michel-Adrien at 9:37 pm

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