British Columbia

Mandatory prison for mentally disabled sex offender 'cruel and unusual,' B.C. judge says

Dylan Scofield has an IQ of 59. He has pleaded guilty to sexual interference involving two 15-year-old girls.

Dylan Scofield pleaded guilty to sexual interference involving 2 15-year-old girls

The mandatory minimum sentence for sexual interference is one year in jail. (CBC)

The mandatory minimum sentence for a child sex crime amounts to "cruel and unusual punishment" and breaches the Charter rights of an offender with significant mental disabilities, a B.C. judge has ruled.

Twenty-six-year-old Dylan Scofield pleaded guilty in 2015 to two counts of sexual interference related to his relationships with a pair of 15-year-old girls, according to a B.C. Supreme Court decision from Vernon.

Canadian law mandates that he be sentenced to at least a year behind bars for that crime. But Justice Gary Weatherill wrote last month that the law "requires me to impose a sentence that is not only excessive or disproportionate to what Mr. Scofield's sentence should be but grossly disproportionate to what is fit and proportionate."

He went on to say that the mandatory sentence is, "therefore inconsistent with and violates Section 12 of the Charter as amounting to cruel and unusual punishment."

Weatherill said that a conditional sentence would be more appropriate.

Scofield, who was 22 at the time of the offences, has an IQ of 59 — or "extremely low" in the most recent classification system — according to the judge's decision. Cognitive testing has placed his intellectual function in the extremely low to borderline range.

He met both of the victims online in 2013, and had sexual relationships with one and then the other between May and October of that year. The mother of one of the girls reported Scofield to the police.

Victim's mental health suffered

In a victim impact statement, one of the girls said she struggles with depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts as a result of the abuse, and gained so much weight she was bullied at school.

"I hide myself in my room to be away from people. It made me drop out of high school and I now stay home and take classes online," the victim wrote.

Weatherill said it was clear Scofield's actions had a big impact on his victims, but the offender's own circumstances made this a "difficult case" to decide.

Scofield had no criminal record before the abuse of the two young girls and has not committed any crimes since his arrest. A psychologist testified that Scofield does not have a predilection for underage girls.

The previous federal government introduced a raft of new mandatory minimum sentences in 2012. (Peter Scobie/CBC)

The judge said Scofield now understands what he did was wrong and does not pose a threat to the public.

As for Scofield's intellectual disabilities, he "has the same or even less mental maturity as the complainants," Weatherill wrote. The offender lives in a suite in his mother's home.

"In my view, a reasonably informed member of the public, aware of all the circumstances of this case, would agree that sending Mr. Scofield to prison for one year would be 'so excessive as to outrage standards of decency,'" Weatherill said.

The judge has given Crown prosecutors a chance to argue that the infringement on Scofield's rights is justified. A court date for those arguments has yet to be set.

Constitutional challenges

The previous Conservative government introduced the new mandatory minimum sentence for sexual interference as part of an omnibus crime bill passed in 2012. That legislation brought in new sentencing standards for a wide assortment of offences, including drug trafficking, sex crimes, child exploitation and some violent crimes.

Scores of constitutional challenges to those mandatory minimums have been working their way through the Canadian court system ever since.

The Supreme Court of Canada has already overturned mandatory minimums on some drug trafficking and firearms offences, and is currently set to decide whether the sentencing requirement for online child luring is constitutional.