Another relevant case is R. v. S.(N.L.), in which a female youth, aged 17, was convicted of 2 counts of robbery, to which she pled guilty. She had no prior convictions and the robberies were muggings that took place on the same day. N.L .S. was sentenced to 6 months in open custody, to be followed by 18 months of probation. In sentencing the teenager, the judge explained his reasons for imposing such a lengthy disposition for a first-time offender.

I recognize that you have no prior record, but in light of the very sad history which you have which I am not blaming you for..., I can see no viable option at this point in time other than putting you into an ongoing, structured environment and that frankly for me to release you to the community at this time...I think would be a dereliction of my responsibility to you (R. v. S.(N.L.), cited in Anand, 1998b, p. 496).

Because her home was not a ‘structured environment,’ and because the judge felt that her chances for successful rehabilitation without custody were poor, she was given a sentence 2 years in duration - 6 months in custody and 18 months probation. If, while on probation, she breached any of the conditions imposed upon her (such as a curfew or a prohibition on the use of alcohol), she would return to custody. This was certainly an onerous offence for a first-time young offender since she would receive no remission for good behaviour. It is extremely unlikely that a first-time adult offender would receive as harsh a penalty, but even if an adult were given such a sentence, he or she would only spend 2 to 4 months in custody due to early release provisions.

The case R. v. M.(J.J.) is also indicative of the role that child welfare concerns play in the sentencing of youths. This case, in which a 14-year-old Aboriginal boy from northern Manitoba was sentenced to 2 years in open custody, resulted in an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. This was the Supreme Court’s first sentencing decision under the Young Offenders Act (Corrado & Markwart, 1994). The boy had been found guilty of breaching probation and 3 counts of breaking and entering, and had prior convictions for 2 counts of breaking and entering and 2 counts of taking a vehicle without the permission of the owner. J. J. M.’s family situation was of great concern to the court as there was domestic and child abuse taking place within the home. The children had been apprehended by Child Welfare authorities previously, but were ‘uncontrollable,’ and were soon returned to their troubled and abusive parents (Anand, 1998a). J. J. M. was sentenced to a period of custody that could only be justified by child welfare concerns, and not the serious nature of his offence. The Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s decision, giving validity to the use of child welfare concerns in sentencing young people. Even though a bad family is no defence for a criminal act, R. v. M.(J.J.) has indicated that a bad family can be justification for a more severe sentence than warranted by the offence (Corrado & Markwart, 1994).

line
Back Table of Contents Next