Why a judge allowed a sex offender to go back to university before serving his sentence

A judge's decision to let a convicted sex offender finish a university semester before serving his sentence stirred huge controversy — but although it's an extreme case, discretionary moves like this aren't as rare as you think.

Connor Neurauter's sentence allows him to finish semester at U of C

An Alberta Provincial Court judge says he has never been asked to delay the start of a 90-day sentence in a summary conviction by the length of a university semester. (Facebook)

It made a lot of people furious.

Connor Neurauter — convicted of sexual interference involving a 13-year-old — was allowed to start serving his 90-day sentence after he finishes a semester at the University of Calgary.

The reaction was swift. An online petition drew tens-of-thousands of signatures with many comments of outrage.

The university says it has no grounds to expel the now 21-year-old, after he pleaded guilty in a Kamloops, B.C., courtroom, but they advised him "not to return to campus for the remainder of the term."

Alberta Provincial Court Judge Sean Dunnigan says a summary conviction, similar to what Neurauter received, brings with it a sentencing range of two years less a day maximum to a 90-day minimum.

"The sentencing process is always an individualized process and it depends totally on what happened and who the people were involved, both offender and victim," Dunnigan told The Homestretch on Wednesday.

"For sentences of 90 days or under, the judge has the discretion to allow those to be served on weekends. Those are called intermittent sentences because they are broken up, they are served on weekends. When you are not serving on the weekend, you are on probation. That has restrictions that I set. That allows them to keep working or going to school, provided they are not a risk to the community."

Dunnigan is speaking in broad terms, not specifically about Neurauter's case.

In terms of accommodations, the judge has some discretion but it's usually on smaller details, like allowing someone a week or two to clear out their apartment before starting their sentence, he explained.

"We allow those small accommodations but I have never been asked for someone to serve [after] a school term," Dunnigan said.

An offender can appeal his or her sentence if they think it's excessive and the Crown can appeal it if it's thought to be too lenient.

"That happens quite often, so you have to have a thick skin in this business," he said.

"Our goal is proportionality. That means the punishment has to fit the crime and has to fit the criminal."

With files from The Homestretch