Probation Sentences and Proportionality under the Young Offenders Act and the Youth Criminal Justice Act

Article excerpt

La presente etude a pour but d'evaluer dans quelle mesure les juges essaient d'etablir des peines de probation proportionnelles en vertu de la Loi sur les jeunes contrevenants (LJC) et de la Loi sur le systeme de justice penale pour les adolescents (LSJPA). Pour ce faire, les auteures ont analyse l'impact de la nature de l'infraction sur la duree de la peine de probation en exploitant (1) un echantillon de causes jugees en vertu de la LJC et (2) un echantillon de causes jugees en vertu de la LSJPA. Or, selon les resultats de leur analyse, les juges du tribunal pour adolescents seraient davantage influences par la nature des infractions les plus graves jugees dans le cadre de la LSJPA qu'ils ne l'etaient dans le cadre de la LJC. Une telle tendance constituerait ainsi une preuve provisoire de l'impact de l'article 38(2)(c) de la LSJPA. En effet, selon cet article, la peine doit etre proportionnelle a la gravite de l'infraction et au degre de responsabilite de l'adolescent a l'egard de l'infraction.

Introduction

This case study is an investigation of one area of youth sentencing that is not as widely understood as it should be: probation. Probation is the sentence most frequently imposed (2) by youth courts in Canada, and in 2002/2003 it was the most severe sentence issued to young offenders in 57% of all guilty findings (Robinson 2004). But little is known about the use of proportionality in crafting community or non-custodial sentences such as probation. This study provides some insight into the judicial use of probation under the Young Offenders Act (YOA) and the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA).

Under the YOA, youth court judges were to consider several principles that would guide the type of sentence imposed on young people. These principles included protection of society, accountability, special needs of the youthful offender, rehabilitation, alternative measures, rights of young persons, and least possible interference (YOA s. 3(1)(a-h)). While the YOA did not explicitly direct youth court judges to consider proportionality when sentencing offenders, there was some evidence that they did, in fact, use this principle. As Trepanier notes, "section 24 [of the YOA] specifies that the court must take into account the seriousness of the offence (among other factors) when deciding to commit a young person to custody" (1989: 32). Although proportionality was only one of many principles to be considered, it appears that the seriousness of the offence committed emerged as a criterion that served to guide judges in deciding the type (open/secure) and length of custodial sentences they imposed (Trepanier 1989).

In the only Supreme Court case judgment under the YOA regarding proportionality, the Supreme Court of Canada argued that while sentences, whether imposed on young or on adult offenders, must be proportionate to the offence committed, the principle of proportionality should have greater significance for adults than in the sentences of young people (R. v. M. (J.J.)). (For a discussion of the use of proportionate sentencing with young offenders, see Bala 2004; von Hirsch 2001; Anand 2003). The Court ruled that when taking into account the special needs of young people, the kinds of guidance and assistance they require, and the protection of society, courts could issue disproportionate sentences (R. v. M. (J.J.)). Under the YOA, therefore, judges could issue dispositions that were "disproportionately severe or intrusive, if the youth had needs that required a greater degree of intervention than would be warranted by the seriousness of the offence" (Barnhorst 2004: 243). However, the YCJA, which replaced the YOA in April 2003, explicitly promotes proportionate sentences for young people as an essential goal of Canada's youth criminal justice system.

Unlike the YOA, the YCJA clearly lists proportionality as a principle of sentencing: a sentence "must be proportionate to the seriousness of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the young person for that offence" (YCJA s. …