Ontario Court of Appeal Upholds Adult Sentence

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Ontario’s Court of Appeal has upheld an adult sentence against Christopher Ellacott who raped and murdered a senior citizen when he was 15 years old.

WHAT HAPPENED?

The crime was unsolved for almost three decades. The only evidence police had was a thumbprint found at the murder scene. A random test at a fingerprinting convention allowed police to link a thumbprint from the crime scene to Ellacott. Police then secretly obtained DNA samples from him, and testing confirmed the DNA matched semen found at the crime scene.

LIFE SENTENCE UPHELD

A jury in Sarnia, Ontario convicted Ellacott in April 2012. He was sentenced as an adult in March 2013. Ellacott was sentenced to life without parole eligibility for seven years and a lifetime supervision order.

Ellacott abandoned his conviction appeal, but appealed his sentence. Ellacott disputed the sentence by arguing that he should have been sentenced as a youth. A youth sentence would mean he would have received a maximum six years in jail and a four-year period of supervision.

The Appeal Court disallowed the argument that Ellacott had been less morally culpable because he had been only 15 years old when he killed his victim.

In upholding the original life sentence, the Court of Appeal found that the punishment given to Ellacott was reasonable and proportionate given the savage killing.

The Court said,

He committed an act of extreme violence against an elderly, vulnerable neighbour who until then had no known reason to fear him. … He sexually assaulted and murdered his elderly, vulnerable neighbour. He went on as though nothing had happened, avoiding justice for nearly 30 years. There is no explanation for his crime; no sense of what motivated him to have committed so heinous an act. 

IMPOSING ADULT SENTENCES ON YOUTHS 

Section 72(1) of the Youth Criminal Justice Act provides guidance to the Courts in imposing an adult sentence. It states:

72(1)  The youth justice court shall order that an adult sentence be imposed if it is satisfied that

  • the presumption of diminished moral blameworthiness or culpability of the young person is rebutted; and
  • a youth sentence imposed in accordance with the purpose and principles set out in subparagraph 3(1)(b)(ii) and section 38 would not be of sufficient length to hold the young person accountable for his or her offending behaviour.

Thus, in order to have the accused sentenced as an adult, the Crown had the onus to satisfy a two prong test:

  • establish the presumption of diminished moral blameworthiness had been rebutted; and
  • establish that a youth sentence would not be sufficient to hold the accused accountable for his behaviour.

The Court of Appeal held that in the Ellacott case the sentencing judge considered all of the required factors, including:

  • the seriousness of the offence;
  • circumstances of the offender;
  • the level of moral judgment demonstrated in the planning and implementation of the offence; and,
  • the youth’s role in carrying out the offence.

The Court of Appeal concluded that the sentencing judge had not failed to consider whether the presumption of diminished moral blameworthiness was disproven.

The Court of Appeal ultimately found that even though the sentencing judge had mistakenly used Ellacott’s testimony and denial of guilt as aggravating factors, the error was found to be of no consequence.   Ellacott had been properly sentenced even though the Superior Court Justice had erred when he used Ellacott’s testimony and his denial of guilt as aggravating factors in his decision. “[T]he sentence imposed is a proportionate sentence that achieves accountability for the serious crime the appellant committed.”

If you have questions about young offenders, sentencing or your rights, contact the Oshawa criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP. We represent young people in Oshawa and throughout the Durham Region who are facing charges. We offer a 24-hour phone service for your convenience.  Contact us online or at 905-404-1947.