Dear Editor: Some time ago read a guest editorial decrying the law’s mandating a minimum sentence. It is wrong, I think, to mandate minimum sentences for some crimes but not for others, but an excellent idea to mandate for every crime a sentence which would take into account every extenuating or aggravating circumstance of which lawmakers can conceive or which court records show prosecutors or defence lawyers to have cited or invented.
“Discretion in sentencing” credits judges with greater discernment than humans have. Mostly it allows lawyers to charge clients for persuading judges to let the clients off with lighter sentences than they deserve. The real reason for having a lawyer in court is to keep us from being wrongly convicted by prosecutors or judges with personal grudges, such as they might have against persons who publicly express certain opinions about their profession. (Mandated sentencing might keep them from giving such a person, if rightly convicted, a harsher sentence than he deserved.)
A lawyer’s opinion about sentencing ought to be irrelevant. (A lawyer’s view of what his client deserves, which the client paid him to present, currently is always taken more seriously than a criminal’s claiming on his own to be more worthy than he looks.)
The penalties our laws impose for criminal offences ought to be of a kind which ordinary people want to inflict, provided they are also of a kind ordinary people are prepared to endure for doing injustice...
A convicted criminal’s “remorse” ought to be equally irrelevant to sentencing, except so far as it leads the criminal to confirm that he indeed deserves the sentence mandated for him. If everyone convicted so admitted his desert, then one in every 10 or one in every 20 or in every 50 or 100 might receive by some form of lottery or by the judgment of a governor general or a lieutenant governor some specific lighter sentence.
The penalties our laws impose for criminal offences ought to be of a kind which ordinary people want to inflict, provided they are also of a kind ordinary people are prepared to endure for doing injustice, rather than the kind of mealy-mouthed “rehabilitative custody” politicians prefer when caught; it might be easier to add or subtract flogging strokes than to calculate days, weeks or months assigned to circumstances which extenuate or aggravate.
Thus treating the ordinary citizen as if he understood the elements of justice might prompt him to learn of them, the same way treating criminals like “products of social forces” tends to make people feel they were such.
Colin Burke, Port au Port