Minimum sentences can be lowered: top court
The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that in some "exceptional cases" a judge can reduce a sentence below the mandatory minimum sentence legislated by Parliament if someone's charter rights have been violated.
In a unanimous decision released Friday, the court said that a man whose ribs were broken by police while being arrested for drinking and driving should not have had his sentence reduced, despite his rights violation.
The Supreme Court found that sentencing provisions in the Criminal Code provide "remedial protection" to those whose rights have been infringed and that sentences must respect "statutory minimums."
"Although in some exceptional cases a sentence reduction outside statutory limits may be possible under s. 24(1) of the Charter as the sole effective remedy for egregious misconduct by state agents, this is not such a case," the court ruled.
The case centred around Lyle Nasogaluak, a 24-year-old oil patch worker who was arrested for drunk driving near Leduc, Alta., in 2004 after leading police on a high-speed chase.
After Nasogaluak stopped, he was struck by an RCMP officer three times in the head. As he was on the ground, Nasogaluak was twice more struck in the ribs before he was handcuffed and arrested. Nasogaluak received treatment for broken ribs and a punctured lung.
Nasogaluak pleaded guilty to impaired driving and fleeing police in 2005. An Alberta Court of Queen's Bench trial judge found police had used excessive force and that Nasogaluak's rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms had been breached.
Because his rights were violated, the judge reduced Nasogaluak's sentence to a 12-month conditional discharge — a sentence that was less than the legislated mandatory minimum sentence.
In 2007, the Alberta Court of Appeal found that while the trial judge was within his rights to reduce Nasogaluak's sentence, the court can not impose a sentence that is less than the mandatory minimum sentence.
The Appeals Court then imposed the minimum sentence of a $600 fine for drinking and driving.