America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

Québec mosque shooting: Bissonnette fights 150-year 'death sentence'

Alexandre Bissonnette
His lawyers will argue that a sentence exceeding a criminal's lifespan contravenes Charter protections against "cruel and unusual punishment."

Lawyers for the man who went on a murderous rampage in a Quebec City mosque will tell a judge Monday that he should not be sentenced to die in prison.

Alexandre Bissonnette, who pleaded guilty to killing six Muslim men in January 2017, is scheduled to return to a Quebec City courtroom.

Over three days, Bissonnette’s lawyers and the Crown will present arguments to Quebec Superior Court Justice François Huot about the sentence the killer should face.

Bissonnette, 28, could be given life in prison without the possibility of parole for 150 years — consecutive 25-year sentences for each of the six first-degree murder charges.

That would be the harshest punishment imposed in Canada since the death penalty was abolished.

Bissonnette’s lawyers have said they will argue that a sentence that exceeds a criminal’s lifespan is the equivalent of a “death sentence by incarceration” and is unconstitutional because the Charter of Rights protects Canadians from “any cruel and unusual punishment.”

Bissonnette’s lawyers are expected to recommend a life sentence with no possibility of parole before 25 years.

Arguing that consecutive sentences should not be deemed unconstitutional, the Crown has said that such punishments recognize the value of every life lost in multiple murders.

The prosecution has also said that Bissonnette deserves an exemplary sentence because he “decimated many families in a racist and violent manner.”

In the month before the Jan. 29, 2017 shooting, Bissonnette had immersed himself in websites, Facebook pages and YouTube videos related to firearms, the alt-right, conservative commentators, Muslims, immigrants and serial killers, with an emphasis on Dylann Roof, who murdered nine black parishioners in a South Carolina church in 2015.

The Crown presented a report written by a prison social worker who said Bissonnette told her he regretted not having killed more people at the mosque, that he was seeking “glory” that night, and that he had thought about committing a mass killing since he was a teenager.

Bissonnette killed Ibrahima Barry, Mamadou Tanou Barry, Khaled Belkacemi, Abdelkrim Hassane, Azzeddine Soufiane and Aboubaker Thabti. Five others were injured by gunfire. Another 35 people, including four children, were in the mosque.

Huot is to hand down his sentence in September.

The Criminal Code was changed in 2011 to allow for consecutive sentences in multiple-murder cases, as opposed to concurrent sentences.

At the time, the federal government said the change was required because “concurrent sentences for multiple murders devalue the lives of victims and put Canadians at risk by allowing multiple murderers to be paroled earlier than merited, given the seriousness of their crimes.”

Whether or not a murderer gets consecutive sentences is left to the discretion of the judge.

The decision should be based on “the character of the offender, the nature of the offence and the circumstances surrounding its commission,” as well as jury recommendations, the Criminal Code says.

The consecutive-sentences provision has been used several times in recent years, with judges handing down at least three 75-year sentences.

That includes Justin Bourque, who killed three RCMP officers and wounded three others in Moncton, N.B. In 2014, he was sentenced to serve at least 75 years of his life sentence before he can request parole.

In what is believed to be the first consecutive sentence imposed in Quebec, Benjamin Hudon-Barbeau was sentenced in February 2018 to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 35 years. Hudon-Barbeau, infamous for his spectacular prison escape by helicopter, was convicted of having ordered two murders and two attempted murders.

Canada formally abolished the death penalty in 1976 but the last executions in Canada took place in 1962, when two people — Ronald Turpin and Arthur Lucas — were hanged for murder.

Source: montrealgazette.com, Andy Riga, June 17, 2018

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