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SENTENCING - Manslaughter - Guilty plea - Addicts - Drugs

Tuesday, January 26, 2021 @ 6:32 AM  


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Appeal by the Crown from a global sentence of 15 years’ imprisonment imposed for manslaughter and home invasion. The respondent broke into a residence and stabbed the two occupants multiple times. He was charged with first degree murder but pleaded guilty to manslaughter. At the time of the offences, the respondent, then 30, was in a psychotic state due to self-induced methamphetamine and cannabis intoxication. All experts diagnosed him with amphetamine, alcohol, cannabis and cocaine use disorders, and antisocial personality disorder and confirmed a history of substance induced psychosis due to cannabis and methamphetamines. The appellant had no history of seeking treatment. The sentencing judge found the only mitigating factor was the guilty pleas. He concluded that imposing consecutive sentences would clearly offend the totality principle. The sentencing judge found the range of 12 to 14 years’ imprisonment for each count of manslaughter was an appropriate starting point, then elevated the sentences to 15 years to account for the killings taking place during a home invasion.

HELD: Appeal allowed. The sentence was increased to 20 years’ imprisonment as sought by the Crown at sentencing. The sentencing judge erred by failing to characterize the respondent’s mental state as one close to murder, which impacted the sentencing judge’s assessment of the respondent’s moral culpability. The judge conflated the accused’s mens rea at the time of the offences with his moral culpability and appeared to have treated his addictions as mitigating. In assessing moral culpability, a sentencing judge must consider the full breadth of circumstances that bear on an offender’s moral culpability. The sentencing judge’s approach treated the psychosis as a neutral factor, failing to account for the reasons why and the circumstances in which the respondent found himself in a psychotic state. His psychotic state was induced purely by his decision to ingest a combination of narcotics. While he might not have intended to kill, he was wilfully blind to the fact that his actions, in choosing to ingest intoxicants to the degree of triggering a psychotic state, could cause him to act violently and erratically. While acknowledging that voluntary intoxication did not diminish an offender’s degree of responsibility, the sentencing judge imported reduced responsibility because of the respondent’s addictions. The respondent made no effort to seek rehabilitative treatment, despite his clear knowledge that by choosing to consume a cocktail of intoxicants, he could become psychotic and violent. The sentencing judge erred in assessing the respondent’s degree of moral culpability which led to the imposition of a demonstrably unfit sentence. Sentence: 20 years’ imprisonment.

R. v. Roberts, [2020] A.J. No. 1325, Alberta Court of Appeal, P.T. Costigan, D. Pentelechuk and J. Antonio JJ.A., December 4, 2020. Digest No. TLD-January252021003