Examining the details of controversial rape sentencing of Christopher Butt
St. John's lawyer Lynn Moore says Justice Goodridge explained his decision adequately
The sentencing of Christopher Ford Butt to five years in prison for the horrific rape of an 11-year-old girl has sparked outrage and frustration from people who think the time is too lenient for the crime.
Notably, the Nova Scotia rapper Classified, whose real name is Luke Boyd, urged his Facebook followers to email judge Justice William Goodridge to show their disapproval.
"The fact that I had to say it on a Facebook post – a rapper from Nova Scotia – and the rest of the country is not looking at it. Like it's not a big deal how brutal this thing was. That's the mind-blowing part because people are like, 'Wow, I never even knew about this,'" Boyd told the Canadian Press.
"The amount of messages I got from other young ladies who said they went through the same thing, with guys getting eight-month and nine-month sentences, it's just crazy. It's really eye-opening for me."
The sentencing was handed down by the judge through acceptance of a joint submission from the crown attorney and defence.
Mark Gruchy, a defence lawyer in St. John's who did not work on this case, said joint submissions are often used as a way to secure a conviction.
Another lawyer, Lynn Moore, agreed.
"So all the parties involved had difficult decisions to make and the goal, I believe, of the resolution that was arrived at saw that there was a conviction and that there was a provision for supervision of this man when he is released from prison," Moore, who is also an advocate for sexual assault victims, told CBC Radio's On the Go.
"This man has taken steps to reform and rehabilitate himself. He's acknowledged his guilt and I think that if people knew more about the facts of the case they would, perhaps, be less outraged."
Understanding joint submissions
The law says a judge is supposed to support a joint submission if it is within the range of sentencing, according to Gruchy and Moore.
"The judge is also bound by the law which says that you have to accept a joint submission if it's within reason, if it's within the range," Moore said.
In this case, five years is within that range.
"The crown attorney and the judge were between a rock and a hard place," Moore said.
"They were faced with these horrendous facts, and they had to decide what they were going to do."
Moore said crown attorney Elizabeth Ivany was faced with a number of possible outcomes. In order to get a higher sentence, Ivany could have rejected the offer and proceeded to trial. While there could have been a higher sentencing in a trial, there could also have been an acquittal, rendering Butt not guilty, or there could have been a lesser sentence, Moore said.
"But all of those options result in that child having to go to court and testify about what happened to her. And sometimes the trauma that a victim suffers from a sexual assault is multiplied exponentially by the fact of having to testify in court," Moore said.
"I have done cases where I can just see the moment where the child witness decides 'I can't do this any longer. I know what this defence lawyer wants me to say and I'm going to say it because I do not want to be here talking about this horrible thing anymore.'"
The judge's explanation
In response to whether or not Justice Goodridge could defend himself, as per Boyd's request, Moore said he already has.
"He's given reasons and he's written a lengthy decision, it's 14 [or] 15 pages," she said.
"He has explained his reasons, and they are well thought out reasons and they make sense."
While Moore agreed that from the outside the sentence seems lenient, she said it is understandable when the law is applied.
"On a personal level, I feel yes this is a ridiculous sentence...this person should be in jail for a very, very long time for what he did," she said.
"But when you apply the law to the case, you see that the judge was faced with having to decide 'Will I accept this recommendation or will I reject it? And if I reject it, will I then be overturned on appeal? And will that result in a trial, and further trauma to this child?' He was faced with knowledge from the counsellor that the counsellor felt that the child couldn't testify.
"So there was a lot at play in making the decision and really the judge's role when faced with a joint submission is to determine whether or not the sentence is reasonable. And the judge in this case decided that it was, taking into account all the circumstances."
For the two years, two months and four days he spent behind bars since his arrest, Butt was given time-and-a-half credit.
This credit removes 1,194 days from his sentence and leaves him with one year and 38 weeks left to serve.
With files from Canadian Press and On the Go