Bill C-55, which came into force on August 1st, 1997, made significant changes to Canada’s Dangerous Offender legislation. This legislation allows the government of Canada to detain indefinitely those offenders found by the court to qualify as “dangerous”. The 1997 reforms made it much easier for the Crown Attorney’s Office to secure a dangerous offender designation. At the same time, Bill C-55 introduced a new legislative designation known as the Long Term Offender Designation. This designation gave Crown Attorneys a more moderate option for dealing with the special concerns raised by long term offenders without resorting to the serious measures imposed by a dangerous offender designation. This also gave criminal defence lawyers an alternative option to suggest to the court as a compromise to avoid dangerous offender designations in the most serious of cases. In the majority of cases, however, criminal defence lawyers will do their upmost to avoid both dangerous offender and long term offender designations for their clients.
The long-term offender designation may only be made following the individual’s conviction for a serious personal injury offence. The term “serious personal injury offence” is defined in s. 752 of the Code as an offence that endangers, or could potentially endanger, another person’s life, safety, or psychological well-being. This category would include aggravated assault, sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault with a weapon, or sexual assault of a minor. The Crown may apply for a long-term offender designation after an individual is found guilty of a personal injury offence but before he or she is sentenced. In addition, according to s. 753(5) of the Criminal Code of Canada, if an application for dangerous offender designation is denied, the court may consider imposing a long term offender designation at that time (in the alternative, they may choose to impose a traditional determinate sentence). A dangerous offender application made be made up to six months following the sentencing of an individual for a serious personal injury crime.
Though long term offenders cannot be given indeterminate sentences as dangerous offenders are, the designation requires that the individual be under long-term supervision and allows the court to return the individual to prison following their release if certain conditions are not met. Section 753.1(3) creates a sentencing regime for long-term offender. Upon designating an individual a long-term offender, the court must impose a sentence for the offence for which the offender has been convicted of a minimum of two years duration and order that the offender be subject to long-term community supervision for up to ten years after his or her release. If the long-term offender breaks his or her order of supervision, he or she will be liable to a term of imprisonment not exceeding ten years.
Section 753.1(1) lists the requirements for a long-term offender designation. The Crown must prove all of the following requirements before the court will designate the individual a long-term offender:
- A sentence of two years or more would be appropriate for the crime committed,
- The offender is likely to reoffend, and
- There is a “reasonable possibility of eventual control of the risk to the community”.
Likelihood to reoffend is assumed pursuant to s. 753.1(2) for all those offenders who are convicted of an offence of a sexual nature or offenders whose records disclose a pattern of violent behaviour.
An application for long-term offender designation must be approved by the Attorney General of the province. The offender is given seven days notice of the application during which the offender and his or her criminal defence lawyer must prepare a defence to the allegation that the individual is a long-term offender. The application will be determined in a special proceeding heard by judge alone without a jury. Character evidence, usually excluded at trial because of its inherent unreliability, is allowed if the court deems it relevant to establishing whether or not the individual qualifies as a long-term offender. Under section 758, the accused must be present at the hearing unless exceptional circumstances make his or her attendance impossible (for example, the accused may be expelled from the courtroom because of violent or uncontrollable behaviour). The accused individual and his or her criminal defence lawyer will have the opportunity to defend against the charge that the accused should be labeled a long-term offender. If found to be a long-term offender, the accused may appeal his designation pursuant to s. 759 of the Code.
This guest post is contributed by Stephanie DiGiuseppe. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.