Saskatchewan

Brain development, mental maturity must be taken into account for adult sentences: law prof

It's a delicate process when lawyers determine whether to ask that a youth be sentenced as an adult, according to Nick Bala, a professor of law at Queen's University.

Sentencing hearing considering adult sentence for 19-year-old who pleaded guilty to killing Hannah Leflar

The severity of the crime is not the only factor in determining whether or not a youth will receive an adult sentence, law professor Nick Bala says. (CBC)

It's a delicate process when lawyers determine whether to ask that a youth be sentenced as an adult, according to a professor of law at Queen's University.

Typically, the arguments for adult sentencing are put forward in particularly "horrific cases," such as murder, said Nick Bala.

Bala joined CBC Radio's The Morning Edition on Tuesday, just before the second day of a sentencing hearing for the man who pleaded guilty to killing Hannah Leflar.

The man, who is now 19, was 16 at the time of Leflar's death in 2015, and may be sentenced as an adult.

"It's a terrible crime and the victims, and their families, their community are obviously shocked and upset," Bala acknowledged, but said more needs to be considered.

"We have a regime, and I think one that is consistent with what happens in other countries, where you said, 'If you're a young enough person, even if you commit these horrific offences, we know that you're in an immature state,'" he said.

In the case of young offenders, even if they've been charged or pleaded guilty to murder, their brain development and mental maturity are taken into account. If the Crown believes the accused might be more receptive to rehabilitative measures, lawyers might opt to request a youth sentence.

"Certainly, to some extent, the nature of the crime is significant, the degree of deliberateness and planning," Bala said.

But more important is the background of the person in question, Bala said, such as whether the person comes from a disadvantaged background, their mental state and whether previous violence has been shown. The youth's actions since the offence occurred — such as whether they've expressed remorse for the crime — are also considered.

"What is their attitude toward the victim?" Bala said.

"We have cases where young people commit horrific crimes, and they sort of sneer at the victim's families and say, 'So what?' And that tells you something also."

With files from CBC Radio's The Morning Edition

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