Thursday, December 16, 2010

Mandatory Sentences Are Not Moral

Mandatory sentences are not moral.

Morality involves principles, it involves considering the situation to distinguish between what is right and what is wrong. Mandatory sentences are not applied with any regard to principles, they are just applied. That's it. If there is a murderer, he gets 25 years, no questions, no concern for circumstances, just the automatic application of a previously computed punishment.

With mandatory sentences, gone is the morality of man, and in its place cold mechanic oblivion.

Recent court decisions have had some people call for greater predictability in sentencing and for the wider adoption of mandatory sentences. These advocates have their hearts in the right place but their minds in binary.

It could be beneficial to have greater predictability in sentencing, but one should wonder how could that occur when we live in a world whose own unpredictable nature is underpinned by an almost infinite amount of factors? A world that requires any general principle to be applied in a specific and unique way each and every time.

When sentencing, judges in Canada use every conceivable perspective to look at each case and every factor. Guided by precedent and argument our judges use Canadian principles, the same principles that form the foundation of our justice system, our country's moral center, to arrive at a just punishment. Yes those sentences may vary, but they vary no more than the world in which we live in and its multitude of situations it presents us with.

Life is not easy, morality is not simple.

To master the natural world, humankind developed reason, a crucial element of morality, let's use it and leave mandatory sentences to those who can't.

(This post was written after reading this news story on a court case and then reading the actual court's justification for the sentencing. In comparing the article and the court case it appears clear that the public perception that our legal system is unpredictable or inconsistent is partially due to the poor and sensationalistic reporting by our media.)

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