Police officers have enjoyed lenient sentences for too long when convicted of crimes and it erodes public confidence in Canada that justice will be served.
That’s the view of Manitoba crown attorneys, as they wait to see whether the country’s highest court hears their offer to quash what they believe is the latest of insufficient sentences imposed on a former Thompson RCMP officer convicted of criminal negligence causing bodily harm.
“The sentences imposed in the past no longer match society’s view of how the police should be held accountable and the irreparable damage the police have done on the public’s faith in the administration of justice Prosecutors Chris Vanderhooft and Ashleigh Smith argue in documents filed with the Supreme Court of Canada.
“The public is taking to the streets to demand justice and accountability. They speak with a voice that has never been stronger than in today’s social climate,” they said, apparently referring to recent widespread protests against misconduct. police officers against Blacks, Aboriginals and communities. colored in the United States and Canada.
The Crown hopes to see Abram Letkeman convicted again for the second time.
After a trial in 2019, Letkeman was sentenced to three years probation, a fine of $ 10,000, community service and a driving ban for his driving on duty in early November 21, 2015.
He was convicted of recklessly injuring a woman when he twice used his police car to hit a Jeep he was chasing, including t-boning it on the passenger side. Letkeman testified that he believed his driver was impaired and that he knew there were other occupants in the Jeep at the time. The woman suffered a fractured pelvis and a broken neck.
Letkeman ultimately shot and killed the driver, Steven Campbell, but was acquitted of the shooting charges after the trial judge ruled it was warranted.
In a split decision in July, a three-judge panel of the Manitoba Court of Appeal declared Letkeman’s sentence inappropriate and quashed the trial judge’s original sentence.
On Letkeman’s re-conviction, two of the three judges said an appropriate sentence was 10 months in prison, but imposed three months. They upheld his fine of $ 10,000 but suspended the execution of the prison term.
This slightly harsher punishment still didn’t match Letkeman’s crime, prosecutors said.
The court has yet to say whether it will hear the case, but crown prosecutors have said the issues presented in the appeal are a national issue.
“The sentences imposed in this case revealed serious flaws in our justice system,” they told the SCC.
This is not a case of direct, individual or systemic racism.– Defense attorney Josh Weinstein
“Police offenders have always received lenient sentences that no longer reflect societal values regarding inherent harm when they exploit the authority vested in them.
“They are a testament to a two-tier justice system that treats offenders with resources and a good community differently,” Crown prosecutors said.
Provincial trial and appeal courts have focused too much on punishing Letkeman’s conduct rather than denouncing his unnecessary use of excessive force, argues the Crown.
They also argue that the courts also made the mistake of placing too much emphasis on Letkeman’s personal situation and the “collateral” consequences he suffered from the incident (the court heard he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression as a result) come to their decisions.
Key to the prosecutors’ argument is how Manitoba Court of Appeal Judge William Burnett felt Letkeman should have gone to jail – 36 months minus six for the community service he performed. .
Burnett wrote a sometimes harsh dissent in the case, which the Crown said was the right approach to take.
“It is inconceivable that a civilian offender in similar circumstances would receive such a lenient sentence,” Burnett wrote. “A fine has never been an appropriate sentence – or part of an appropriate sentence – for this offense and this offender.
“Leaving aside the fact that most offenders could not afford to pay a fine of $ 10,000, a long period of incarceration was – and is – required,” the judge said.
“The sentence imposed by the trial judge must be incomprehensible to [the victim], members of his community and the general public in Manitoba, ”Burnett wrote.
The Crown said that the retention of Letkeman’s sentence strengthens the belief that the police are participating in a “special justice system” where the sentences they receive are reduced by “circumstances which allow them to commit crimes in the first place. “and relying on” collateral consequences “which are the natural result of their actions.
“Public confidence has been preserved,” says lawyer
In response, defense attorney Josh Weinstein says prosecutors are trying to make it seem like Letkeman’s case has broader social implications when it really doesn’t.
“This is not a case of direct, individual or systemic racism,” he said. “[Letkeman’s] the actions were not the result of a conscious or unconscious bias against the victim. The victim did not belong to any vulnerable group in our society …
“None of the factors that led to the large-scale public outcry mentioned by [prosecutors] – presumably seen in movements like Black Lives Matter – are present in this case, ”Weinstein said.
“An error by a trial judge, corrected on appeal, is not a matter of national and public importance.”
Ultimately, Letkeman was responsible for his actions in the Manitoba Court of Appeal, he noted. The prison sentence was noted as part of his sentence.
“Public confidence has been preserved and the need to speak out against the offender’s criminal behavior has been met. This is the essence of this case,” Weinstein said.
The Supreme Court has not announced a date on whether it will hear the Crown appeal. If they refuse, it is customary for the court not to provide reasons.