New Brunswick

Impact statements can't 'hijack' justice: N.B. court

New Brunswick's Court of Appeal rules that a judge was "overwhelmed" by a victim impact statement and warned that such statements cannot be allowed to hijack the process.

Judge may have been 'overwhelmed' by victims' comments, Appeal Court says

New Brunswick's top court says a provincial judge was influenced too strongly by a victim impact statement and warned that such statements cannot be allowed to "hijack the process."

The New Brunswick Court of Appeal ruled last week that Judge Irwin Lampert may have been "overwhelmed" by the emotional victim impact statement in the 2009 case of Tina Steeves.

Steeves, from Moncton, N.B., defrauded her parents of more than $400,000. 

Steeves' parents made a victim impact statement and although both the Crown prosecutor and the defence lawyer recommended a two-year sentence, Lampert sentenced her to four.

Lampert said at the time that the parents had been left destitute and that two years simply wasn't enough. 

The 30-page appeal decision written by Chief Justice Ernest Drapeau said that the judge must exercise restraint, "despite the understandably powerful feelings of aversion he or she may entertain for what the offender has done. The ultimate objective is dry-eyed justice according to law."

The court ruled that two years was the proper sentence.

Case will have impact on justice system

Jeffrey Mockler, the provincial lawyer during the appeal, said that the case provides a useful clarification about victim impact statements.

"You could see the victim impact statement creating such emotion in the reader, and probably the sentencing judge as well, it kind of took too much weight in the sentence," he said.

Vanessa MacDonnell, who teaches law at the University of New Brunswick, said the decision is a reminder that all factors must be considered during sentencing.

"I think it's fair to say the Court of Appeal was sounding a note of caution," she said. "And that note of caution might be picked up on in the future."

Mockler agrees that appeal decision will have reverberations throughout the judicial system.

"This is a case you'll see quoted in the future," he said. "No doubt of that."