Sunday, April 30, 2006

Dangerous Offender Status and Capital Punishment

Even though there is no proof that capital punishment serves as a deterrent, I think a case for capital punishment can be made. From time to time certain criminals hit a societal nerve. Not surprisingly, once caught and convicted these people become the face of evil for whole communities. Here in lies the problem; so long as these people remain alive these communities remain haunted by such figures. There is no better example of this than Clifford Olson. Since, his arrest in 1983, Olson has found himself in the media spotlight from time to time and whenever that has happened old wounds where once again ripped open. Olson also has become the living embodiment of what people think is wrong with the justice system. Executing Olson and his kin seems the only way giving afflicted communities, but certainly not loved ones, a sense of completion and peace and clear sense that justice has prevailed.

The problem is that if Canada were to reintroduce the death penalty as a punishment for first degree murder, some of the same problems that plague the States and helped get capital punishment abolished in the first place would again plague the Justice System. Most notably, while the introduction of DNA evidence has lessened the likelihood of innocent person being put to death, the likelihood of an innocent person being convicted of a capital crime, somewhere down the line, is still pretty high. As such, just as Olson has become a living argument for capital punishment, Guy Paul Morin has become a living argument against capital punishment.

I think there is a way around this objection, but to my knowledge I am the only one to have put it forward. What I purpose is that the state be allowed to execute someone not for what they have done per say, but for what they are. In a Canadian context what this would boil down to is this: Rather than defining what is a capital crime, the notion of Dangerous Offender should be refined to include people convicted of murder and that authorities should have the option of executing, at least offenders, deemed such because they met the first criteria listed below. Technically speaking, the possibility of executing a person for a crime they did not commit would not exist. Currently, “under the Dangerous Offender provisions, the Crown can ask that an offender be sentenced to remain in prison for as long as he or she is considered dangerous, which in some cases, can be indefinitely. This must be done through a special court hearing held soon after the offender has been convicted. Not all offenders are considered dangerous. In order to be considered a DO, an offender must have committed a "serious personal injury offence" (for example, sexual assault, manslaughter or aggravated assault). Murder is not included since a conviction results in an automatic life sentence. In addition, there must be evidence to show that the offender constitutes a risk to others, based on any one of the following:

•a pattern of repetitive and persistent behaviour that is likely to lead to injury or death, or a pattern of aggressive behaviour showing indifference to the safety of others;

•the likelihood of injury through a failure to control sexual impulses; or

•a crime so "brutal" that it is unlikely the offender can inhibit his or her behaviour in the future.

Incidentally, "as of September 24, 2000, there were 276 active Dangerous Offenders in Canada; representing approximately 2% of the total federal offender population.”

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