Judge Strikes Down Mandatory Minimum Sentences for Sex Crimes

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

A judge from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice has ruled that mandatory minimum sentences for two sex offences should not apply in the case of Steevenson Joseph (“Joseph”), a 24-year-old first-time offender, who recruited and photographed two underage prostitutes.

After a three-week trial last February, Joseph was convicted of receiving a benefit from the prostitution of a person under the age of 18-years; procuring a person to offer to provide sexual services believing that the person was 18-years or older; knowingly advertising an offer to provide sexual services for consideration; and of making and possessing child pornography. A jury acquitted him of more serious charges, which included sexual assault and two charges related to underage prostitution.

WHAT HAPPENED?

At the time of the crime, Joseph was 21-years-old and was depressed and lonely. He received information from a friend, who was involved in the sex trade, about how lucrative the business was. He then met a girl, identified in court as C.A., who was a college student and who he believed was 18-years-old. He asked her if she wanted to make money in the sex trade. C.A. testified that Joseph did not pressure her to take part in prostitution. She also introduced her best friend, identified as R.D., to meet Joseph as she was also interested in the sex trade.

Joseph took provactive photos of both girls and posted them on a website that features escort service ads. The girls, who were in fact in high school and under the age of 18 at the time, also used Joseph’s apartment to service clients.

Joseph was caught by police through an Ottawa police sting operation after a girl identified as M.M. contacted Joseph through social media interested in becoming involved in the escort business.  M.M. was 15 years-old.

All three girls testified at trial that they were never pressured by Joseph, that they lied about their ages, and that they decided freely to join the sex trade.

REASONS FOR SENTENCE

At Joseph’s sentencing hearing, the Crown prosecutor argued that Joseph should be sentenced to a 3-and-a-half year jail term, while the defence requested a suspended sentence (ie. defendant serves a period of probation and receives a criminal record).

Joseph’s lawyer argued that given the facts of the case, the minimum penalties would be a form of “cruel and unusual punishment” and should be struck down as unconstitutional.

Justice Colin McKinnon agreed with Joseph’s lawyer and stated that the minimum penalty prescribed by law “for his offences are grossly disproportionate”. He gave him a suspended sentence, one year probation, and the conditions that he report to a probation officer and not communicate with underage girls identified as C.A., R.D. or M.M.

Justice McKinnon also ordered that Joseph’s DNA be taken pursuant to section 487.051 of the Criminal Code and that he be listed on the Sex Offender Registry for his entire life pursuant to section 490.013(2.1) of the Criminal Code.

Justice McKinnon struck down the mandatory minimums for two offences (receiving a benefit from the prostitution of someone under the age of 18 and making and possessing child porn) as unconstitutional.

This decision took into account that Joseph suffered “irreparable damage” due to inflammatory media reports that were based on exaggerated police assertions regarding human trafficking.

Justice McKinnon stated in his reasons for sentence:

I have sent a number of them to penitentiary, including two child pornographers. In stark contrast to those cases, the facts of this case constitute the least serious conduct witnessed by me in the context of prostitution and child pornography cases. …

An objective view of the facts causes me to conclude that Mr. Joseph has been subjected to sufficient punishment.

WHAT ARE MANDATORY MINIMUM SENTENCES?

Canada’s criminal law sets out mandatory minimum penalties as the lowest possible punishment an individual can receive if convicted of a criminal offence in Canada. These are often crimes that are both serious and violent offences. There are currently more than 70 of these provisions in the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

The majority of offences found in Canada’s Criminal Code do not have mandatory minimum sentences. In these cases, it is the judge’s discretion to deliver an appropriate sentence.

The codification of mandatory minimums was markedly increased by the former Conservative government in an effort to promote its “tough on crime” agenda.

The Supreme Court of Canada and lower courts have already struck down numerous mandatory minimum sentences related to weapons offences, drug offences, and sexual offences against children as unconstitutional. In fact, the Supreme Court of Canada has decided three of these cases (R. v. Nur and R. v. Charles; R. v. Lloyd) and R. v. Morrison is already on the docket to be heard in the near future.

In the current state of criminal law in Canada, millions of dollars are being used to litigate these sentences on a case-by-case basis. This results in inconsistent legal decisions across the country and uncertainty as to which mandatory minimums are valid.

Sentencing in the Joseph case is currently being reviewed by the Crown Law Office in Toronto to determine if the decision will be appealed. We will provide updates in this blog of any developments in this case as they become available.

If you are facing sexual offence charges or have any questions regarding your legal rights, please contact Durham region criminal defence lawyers Affleck & Barrison LLP. We have a reputation for effective results in defending all types of criminal legal charges. We offer a free initial consultation and a 24-hour phone service.   Contact our office online or at 905-404-1047 to speak with one of our experienced criminal defence lawyers today.