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May 16, 2008

Split Canadian high court issues major ruling on trying minors

As detailed in news reports here and here, "Canadian courts must treat juvenile killers more leniently than adults unless the government can show compelling reasons to give them adult sentences, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled on Friday."  Here's more from this account of the Canadian ruling:

The high court said adolescents have "diminished moral culpability" and should not have to prove that they should be given youth sentences. In each instance, the onus will now be on prosecutors to make the case that adult sentences should be applied.  "Young people are entitled to a presumption of diminished moral culpability," Justice Rosalie Abella wrote for the court's 5-4 majority decision. "Young people...are decidedly but differently accountable."

The case involved a 17-year-old, identified as D.B., who sought to pick a fight with 18-year-old Jonathan Romero outside a mall. Romero did not defend himself, but D.B. knocked him unconscious and Romero died of his injuries.  The 17-year-old was convicted of manslaughter and given a youth sentence of 30 months in a juvenile correctional facility plus six months' supervision.  The prosecution had sought an adult sentence of five years' imprisonment....

Justice Marshall Rothstein, writing the dissent, disagreed that the section of the Youth Criminal Justice Act was unconstitutional, noting that under it young offenders still had the right to satisfy the court that adult sentences should not apply.

The full ruling in R. v. D.B., 2008 SCC 25 (Canada May 16, 2008) can be accessed here.  A quick search does not turn up any reference to Supreme Court's 2005 Roper decision about juveniles being ineligibility for the death penalty in the United States.  Nevertheless, it seems notable that the big juve ruling in the US is about the death penalty, whereas the big juve ruling in Canada involves a dispute over only a few years' imprisonment.

UPDATE:  Howard Bashman collects major news coverage of R. v. D.B. here.

May 16, 2008 at 04:58 PM | Permalink


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30 months for starting a fight with someone and killing him. Yeah, that's some enlightened justice.

Posted by: federalist | May 16, 2008 6:29:42 PM

The question was a matter of who in law should shoulder the responsibility for justifying a youth or adult sentence. The court has rightly ruled that it is the responsibility of the prosecution to make the case for the more severe sentence. That is as it should always be - the burden of evidence delivery for an above minimum sentence should always be shouldered by the state.
Doug's point is the massive difference in proportion - which reflects once again on the incredible divide between so-called US sentencing "justice", and that of the rest of the civilized world.

Posted by: peter | May 17, 2008 1:07:53 AM

I'm sure the family of the 18 year old sees the wisdom of the 30 month sentence.

Posted by: federalist | May 17, 2008 9:27:47 AM

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