Canada judge rules mandatory minimum sentence for firearm possession unconstitutional

[JURIST] The Ontario Superior Court [official website] on Monday issued an opinion [text] refusing to impose a mandatory minimum sentence established by the Canadian federal government for firearm possession, declaring the guideline unconstitutional. Justice Anne Molloy ruled in the case of Leroy Smickle, who was convicted of possessing a loaded handgun. The Canadian government stipulates [95(1) of the Criminal Code text] that any party found guilty of that crime shall be sentenced to a minimum imprisonment of three years. Molloy found no malicious intent in Smickle's actions, and recognized that this conviction was his first as a mitigating factor. Smickle's defense counsel argued that the mandatory sentence amounted to cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms [text], Canada's constitution, and Molloy agreed:

The only goal or principle of sentencing that would arguably be met by the imposition of this sentence would be denunciation and general deterrence. However, the case law is clear that general deterrence alone cannot justify the imposition of a sentence that is otherwise grossly disproportionate to what an offender deserves. To take that principle to the extreme, a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment for shoplifting would no doubt act as a general deterrent, but it would shock the public conscience to impose such an onerous punishment, for example, on a young single mother with no criminal record who steals a loaf of bread from Walmart.
The results of this case, and recent case Regina v. Nur [text], where a similar sentence was upheld, have combined to present a significant challenge to Canada's current mandatory minimum sentence requirements. The issue may warrant an appeal [The Globe and Mail report] to the Supreme Court of Canada [official website].

Mandatory minimum sentences have also been and issue in the United States, where the US Supreme Court issued a ruling [JURIST report] in May of 2010 allowing mandatory minimums but elevating the standards of proof required in federal gun crimes. Some commentators have suggested [JURIST op-ed] that mandatory minimum sentences should also be disfavored because of their tendency to increase the load of prisons on governmental budgets and unnecessarily increase the non-violent prisoner population.

 

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