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MANDATORY MINIMUM SENTENCES

As a Richmond Hill Criminal lawyer, I would urge anyone who is charged with a criminal offence to consult a criminal lawyer in your local area. The following is for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.

Mandatory minimum sentences mean a person convicted of a crime must be imprisoned for a minimum term defined by law makers. The fundamental principle of sentencing set out in section 718.1 of the Criminal Code of Canada is that a sentence must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender. Where one is convicted of an offence carrying a mandatory minimum sentence, a judge has no discretion to reduce the sentence.

Proponents of mandatory minimum sentences believe that mandatory minimum sentences will help deter individuals from committing criminal offences. Unfortunately, there is very little evidence to support this notion as many public officials in the United States of America have acknowledged that their mandatory minimum sentencing policies have failed to curtail criminal behaviour and have failed against the war on drugs. Ironically, certain states in the United States of America have started to adopt an approach focusing on rehabilitation rather than punishment, when Canada has embarked on the exact opposite approach.

Opponents of mandatory minimum sentences argue that mandatory minimum sentences do not assist in deterring individuals from committing criminal offences and remove the judge from the very individualized process of sentencing. Another consideration is the astronomical cost to tax payers by imposing mandatory minimum sentences as prisons will invariably become over-crowded and more prisons will be needed to house the convicted prisoners. Despite the alarming recorded failures in the U.S.A. the Harper government enacted the Safe Streets and Communities Act in 2012 that is aimed at increasing penalties for certain offences at a time when crime rates are at its lowest in decades in Canada.

The constitutionality of mandatory minimum sentences for gun related offences is currently being litigated in the appellate courts across the country. In certain cases, judges have held that the mandatory minimum sentence violates section 12 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which protects everyone from being subjected to cruel and unusual punishment. Ultimately, the Supreme Court of Canada will have to decide this issue in the near future.

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