Court/Judicial body: Supreme Court of British Columbia
Citation: R v. Wellwood, 2011 BCSC 690
Date: 4 April 2011
Instrument(s) cited: Youth Criminal Justice Act, Sections 3, 38 and 72
Background: Wellwood and Moffat sexually assaulted and killed a woman and mutilated her corpse, ultimately setting it on fire, when they were aged 16 and 17 respectively. Both of them pleaded guilty to first degree murder and to offering indignity to victim’s remains. The mandatory youth sentence for first degree murder in Canada is a total of 10 years, of which no more than six can be in custody, and at least four must be non-custodial (i.e. in the community under supervision). Once the 10 years pass, no further supervision or conditions can be imposed. Though they were minors at the time of the offence, the Crown argued that Wellwood and Moffat should be sentenced as adults. The burden was on the Crown to convince the Court that a youth sentence would not be of sufficient length to hold Wellwood and Moffat accountable for their behaviour.
Issue and resolution: Sentencing of juvenile offender. The Court had to decide whether, based on an evaluation of the circumstances of the case, the prosecution’s request to have the defendants sentenced as adults instead of juveniles can be granted. It granted that request and sentenced both defendants to the mandatory adult sentence of imprisonment for life and determined they would be eligible for parole after 10 years in prison.
Court reasoning: In reaching its final decision on sentencing, courts are obliged by the Youth Criminal Justice Act to consider the seriousness and circumstances of the offence, and the age, maturity, character, background and previous record of the youth, as well as any other relevant factors. The Court relied heavily on psychiatric analysis and personal background of each defendant. It did not consider the lack of a youth offence record as a mitigating factor. The Court was unable to clearly determine the respective degrees of responsibility of each Wellwood and Moffat for the crime. Rather, it concluded that each was a full and willing participant in the offence and that any difference in degree of participation would not affect the proportionality of the sentence. The Court found that the maximum length for youth sentences would not be sufficient to hold the defendants accountable for their offending conduct, and therefore sentenced them to life imprisonment, with eligibility for parole after 10 years.
Notes: For more information on the issue of inhuman sentencing of children, including a selection of case law, please see CRIN’s ‘Inhuman sentencing’ campaign.
Link to full judgement: http://caselaw.canada.globe24h.com/0/0/british-columbia/supreme-court-of-british-columbia/2011/04/04/r-v-wellwood-2011-bcsc-690.shtml.