Saskatchewan Court of Appeal Refuses to Consider Pending Changes to Marijuana Legislation when Sentencing

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

 

The conversation around pending changes to marijuana legislation and how it relates to those tied up in the criminal justice system today continues to provide us with judicial decisions.

The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal recently overturned a trial judge’s decision to issue a suspended sentence to a man, who was convicted of possession for the purpose of trafficking and trafficking over 20 pounds of marijuana.

A Lenient Trial Judge

At the man’s first trial, the judge considered existing sentencing guidelines and whether ordering jail time would violate the man’s rights under Section 12 of the Charter (which protects individuals from cruel and unusual punishment).

The judge stated, “I understand that my task is to approach the debate in a common‑sense way with a view to determining if the sentencing regime created by Parliament manifests itself in a grossly disproportionate punishment.”

The trial judge went on to consider a previous Supreme Court of Canada decision, which had found that “[Courts] should be careful not to stigmatize every disproportionate or excessive sentence as being a constitutional violation, and should leave to the usual sentencing appeal process the task of reviewing the fitness of a sentence. Section 12 will only be infringed where the sentence is so unfit having regard to the offence and the offender as to be grossly disproportionate.”

This left the trial judge to summarize “’Merely excessive’ is tolerable. It is only when the sentencing result reaches the frontier of “cruel and unusual” or “grossly disproportional” that the Charter remedy is triggered.”

The trial judge then examined the man’s history, which did not include any previous criminal activity. In fact, he played an active role in community involvement and was involved in both academic and business pursuits. The trial judge concluded “No larger good is served sentencing [this man] to jail. He poses no danger to the community. He has conducted himself well as a citizen but for this single unfortunate foray in the mire of the drug world. To be certain, as he attempted to engage in a criminal enterprise, his crimes are deserving of denunciation and deterrence. However, facing the reality that the product in which he dealt is to become legal, it should be said that the decibel level of such denunciation and deterrence may be less than it otherwise would be.” The man was ultimately issued a suspended sentence.

On Appeal

Prosecutors appealed the trial judge’s decision to the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal., which reached a much different conclusion.

The Court of Appeal specifically noted the trial judge’s consideration of pending changes to Canada’s marijuana legislation, writing “After observing that the federal government was taking steps to legalize marijuana, he proceeded to sentence [the man]. The trial judge suspended the passing of sentence for two years subject to certain conditions.”

The Court of Appeal went on to state “Judges are bound to apply the law as it exists not as it might be in the future especially when, as here, it is unknown when the law will be changed, what the terms of it will be and how it will affect the offences of trafficking drugs or possession for the purpose.

The Court added “The possible future legalization of possession of marijuana can have no legal effect on the sentencing regime,” and, “it is an irrelevant extraneous factor that could, in this case, play no part in sentencing considerations. The trial judge’s reliance on this factor was an error of law.”

The man was ultimately given a sentence of 15 months.

To speak with an experienced Oshawa criminal defence lawyer about drug trafficking or possession of drug charges, call Affleck & Barrison at 905-404-1947 or contact us online. We offer a free consultation and are available to help you 24/7. Trust our experienced lawyers to handle your defence with diligence and expertise.