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MANDATORY MINIMUM SENTENCES Introduction The case of Robert Latimer the Saskatchewan farmer who killed his disabled daughter Tracy has once again brought into focus the issue of mandatory minimum sentences MMS Latimer was twice convicted of second degree murder for what he claimed was a compassionate killing His case culminated in an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada on the grounds that the circumstances of the killing merited a constitutional exemption under s12 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms from the mandatory sentence of life imprisonment with ten years of parole ineligibility Grant 2001 The Supreme Court dismissed his appeal that a life sentence in his case constituted cruel and unusual punishment on the basis that the planning and premeditation of the act as well as his attempts at concealment and lack of remorse overrode his dedication to Tracy and other mitigating factors Unlike previous cases the Latimer appeal did not challenge the constitutionality of the mandatory sentence for murder only the applicability of this sentence to his case Nevertheless the case brought into full view the fundamental dilemma associated with MMS namely that their predictable quality which is said to afford their retributive and deterrent effects also renders them inflexible and unduly harsh in cases where the offenders motives are not entirely dishonourable Grant 2001 notes that our law currently has no defence available to those who can no longer cope with the suffering of a loved one The inflexibility of mandatory penalties for murder is of particular concern in another context those instances in which an abused spouse kills her tormentor in a premeditated fashion Such killings are usually prompted by credible threats against the life of the victim andor her offspring Presently planned killings of this nature carry the same sentence as contract killings In Canada over two dozen offences in the Criminal Code carry MMS including first and second degree murder a series of firearm-related
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