Friday, June 14, 2013

Korean war veteran, 87, dodges mandatory 3-year prison sentence; but what if he was Black and 23?

The result here is the right one (although to my mind the charges should not have been laid).  But the problem is the result came because a Crown exercised an unregulated and non-transparent discretion.  Crowns generally act responsibly but as my title suggests, what if all the facts were the same but the accused was younger and black?  Surely three years in jail ought not to be decided, in effect, behind closed doors.

Mandatory minimum sentences reflect society's (proper) abhorrence of gun crimes -- and in that context I think they are reasonable -- but there should be an "opt-out" provision for judges to say that in this particular case a mandatory sentence is not right.

Story here:

VANCOUVER — Home-care workers were attending the home of an 87-year-old B.C. man recently when they stumbled across a 1960s-era pistol long forgotten in a corner of his apartment.

“I’m 87 years old, I’m not going to go around looking for it,” said Lynn Henshaw, a Korean War veteran who has lived in Sidney, B.C., for the past 15 years.

Regardless, an RCMP visit later and Mr. Henshaw was staring down a mandatory three-year prison sentence, the result of Canada’s recently toughened gun possession laws.

“I knew the gun laws had changed, but I didn’t know it was that bad. At 87, you don’t pay attention to things like that,” he said.

The weapon that landed him in court was a .38 Colt that Mr. Henshaw had purchased when he was the administrator of a college in Maui.

Rather than hire a security guard to shuttle the school’s tuition to a bank, he said, he bought a sidearm to do it himself.

Luckily, in Mr. Henshaw’s case the issue never went to trial. Mr. Allen took Mr. Henshaw on as a pro bono client and worked out an arrangement with prosecutors: His client pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of careless storage of a firearm, and the stricter charges were stayed.

“He got a discharge, he forfeited the gun and there’s a prohibition order for 10 years, which for him I guess is life,” said Mr. Allen.

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