Supreme Court softens ‘tough-on-crime’ sentencing guidelines

Court rules that offenders can receive extra credit for pre-sentencing custody

The Supreme Court of Canada has softened a key piece of the federal government's 'tough-on-crime' legislation by ruling that convicted offenders can receive extra credit for time served in custody before they are sentenced, according to the National Post. The ruling will especially affect offenders who cannot afford to post bail. The court ruled that credit should be given to offenders as a way of ensuring that impoverished and disadvantaged offenders do not end up serving longer sentences than wealthier offenders.

Pre-sentencing credit

The ruling concerns the so-called Truth in Sentencing Act. The law attempted to give judges stricter guidelines in how to sentence offenders. The act stated that offenders should receive one-to-one credit for time served before sentencing, or 1.5 to one in exceptional circumstances. The act, however, did not clarify what would warrant such exceptional circumstances.

Judges have traditionally given two-to-one or even three-to-one credit for time served before sentencing since pre-sentencing custody does not count towards parole eligibility. In response to the legislation, many lower court judges routinely gave offenders 1.5-to-one credit for pre-sentencing custody regardless of the circumstances.

SCC softens bill

In its ruling, the Supreme Court did not throw out the law, but it did soften it considerably. According to the Globe and Mail, in its unanimous decision the court took special issue with the fact that the legislation used vague language to try to overturn a long-held tradition in judicial discretion. The court said that if Parliament truly wanted to change the concept of granting extra credit for pre-sentencing custody than it should have used more specific language.

The court also noted that the legislation could have created an unfair situation for some offenders from less privileged backgrounds. For example, offenders who could not afford to post bail could have ended up serving longer sentences than people who could post bail since pre-sentencing custody does not count towards early parole. The decision is just the latest event in a series of rows between the country's judges and new so-called 'tough-on-crime' legislation. For example, many lower court judges have either openly challenged or skirted other measures, such as mandatory victim surcharges and mandatory minimum sentences, in recent months.

Defending against a criminal charge

The above story shows just how important it is to have qualified legal counsel when defending against a criminal charge. Anybody who has been charged with a criminal offence should contact a criminal defence lawyer right away. Whether during the bail hearing or at sentencing, experienced legal advice is often a necessary tool in making sure an accused person is treated fairly and properly throughout the legal process.