TheCourt.ca Update: Sentencing for the Murder of Officer Garrett Styles
Sentence Handed Down
Recently, TheCourt.ca published an analysis of how the court might rule in the case of R v SK. On November 16, 2015, Superior Court Justice Alex Sosna rendered his sentence for the now 19-year old man who was convicted for the first-degree murder of York Regional Police Officer Garrett Styles.
Justice Sosna sentenced S.K. to 9 years of conditional supervision, which essentially means that S.K. will not have to spend any time within the confines of a correctional facility. S.K. will serve his sentence at home.
It is too early to gauge public reaction toward the sentence but we can anticipate various arguments by both those opposing and supporting Justice Sosna’s decision.
Reasoning of the Court
A report on the hearing highlighted some of Justice Sosna’s reasoning for the sentence, including his belief that the young offender had in fact been rehabilitated. As dictated by s. 38(2)(e)(ii) of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, SC 2002, c 1 [YCJA], a youth sentence must “be the one that is most likely to rehabilitate the young person and reintegrate him or her into society….” Unlike sentencing under the Criminal Code, RSC 1985, c C-46, which focuses on denunciation and deterrence, the principal goal of the YCJA is the rehabilitation of the young offender. (It is important to note that the YCJA applies in this case, despite S.K. now being 19 years of age, because S.K. was only 15 years old at the time the offence was committed.) Since the young offender had been rehabilitated, it would appear that the purposes of the YCJA had already been met, and thus, negated the need for a custodial sentence for this young offender.
Moreover, Justice Sosna touched upon the difficult future this young offender must face as a quadriplegic. S.K. is already serving the life sentence of a compromised quality of life given the serious nature of his injuries. In one respect, as Justice Sosna apparently noted, the young offender finds himself imprisoned in his own body.
In reaching his decision, Justice Sosna considered a number of other important mitigating factors, such as the youthfulness of the offender, the fact that S.K. did not have a criminal record, his positive school records, and consistent support of his family since the accident. Taken together, these facts influenced the court in ultimately deciding that a custodial sentence would serve no greater purpose and be redundant in meeting the goals of punishment in this case.
Without a doubt, there will be those in favour and those completely opposed to the finding of the court in sentencing S.K. There will also be a slew of opinions that fall somewhere in between the extremes.
On the one hand, you have those who will side with Justice Sosna’s ruling and offer similar reasoning for why it would be better for S.K. to serve his sentence in the community. One further addition may be that S.K. could better account for his crime by being out in the community and teaching other youth about his experience and proper decision-making. Simply keeping a disabled youth behind bars would do nothing to promote a broader message that could lend healing to such a tragic circumstance.
Those in favour of Sosna’s decision may also pose the economically rational point of a custodial sentence not being in the best interests of our resource-stretched criminal justice system. The excessive costs, such as specialized medical services, that would be needed to house a disabled youth would be better spent on a truly hardened criminal that required intensive supervision.
On the other hand, you will also have the camp that will look at Justice Sosna’s decision as wrongheaded. They will say that a police officer is dead and the person responsible for his death will not serve a single day behind bars, that there is something wrong with this picture. No matter the severe personal injuries suffered by the young offender, it is a consequence he brought upon himself when he made the decision to drive away. As such, the court should not use this unfortunate outcome to mitigate the choice he made which ultimately lead to the death of Officer Styles. S.K. caused tremendous pain and suffering and now a family is without their loved one and the public is without a well-respected and dedicated public servant.
Closure as Elusive
Despite the views of the opposing camps, Justice Sosna clearly applied a sentence that he thought would hold S.K. accountable but still allow him to have some semblance of a life. Given his view that S.K. was already rehabilitated, Justice Sosna seemed to be saying that to impart a custodial sentence would be retributive and vengeful. Instead, a community-based sentence would do a better job of restoring the harm that was already done by this offender.
Of course, the Styles family has been handed a life sentence of sorts: they will spend the rest of their lives without their loved one. They also have the painful task of striving for closure after 4 years of legal wrangling and now must turn over a new chapter in their lives without Garrett Styles. The family is disappointed in the sentence and it is anyone’s guess as to whether the Crown will appeal.
This case is one where no party will ever be truly satisfied. Too many lives have been ruined as the result of what took place on June 28, 2011. Unfortunately, the end of a criminal trial rarely brings about the kind of peace that families expect. R v SK is a reminder of how in a split second, a single choice can lead to drastic consequences that reverberate for a lifetime.