How Would Canada Deal With the Elkhart Four?
As you can tell from my last post, the case of the 4 boys from Elkhart Indiana convicted of murder when they did not shoot the gun has greatly concerned me. I place full responsibility for this miscarriage of justice on Elkhart County Prosecutor Curtis Hill. Mr. Hill has made decisions that will destroy the lives of Levi Sparks, Blake Layman, Anthony Sharp and Jose Quiroz. Mr. Hill stated “People breaking into homes when there is someone there or someone not there, it has to stop and from our stand point we are going to use every available measure under the law to stop it.1”
I think that Mr. Hill is destroying the lives of these four boys to appear harsh on crime to get re-elected. The truth is it will probably work for him. After the boys are sentenced he will not give them another thought and he will continue along his political journey. Mr. Hill is telling the public what they want to hear, that sending these four boys away for 45 – 65 years is going to make Elkhart County safer. Who is challenging him on this idea? Where is his proof? Does he have statistics to show that this is true? Can he show how the high rate of incarceration for extended time periods is making the community safer? There are many people who throw out the words “if you commit the crime you must do the time.” This is a wonderful sounding phrase, but is it true?
The truth is clear . . . if sending people to prison with long harsh sentences cuts crime rates then the United States of America should be the safest country in the world. The US has a little less then 5% of the world’s population, but around 25% of the world’s prisoners. Look at this graph.
The USA has more prisoners per 100 000 people than any other country in the world. If you compare the USA to other western countries (Canada, Europe and Australia) you learn that the size of the US prison population is approximately 7 times higher per 100 000 people than in any other western democracy.
Mr. Hill seems to believe that if we put millions of people in prison, then the country will be safe. Politically this works for Mr. Hill because most voters believe this to be true (as is seen by all the people commenting on news stories about this case advocating 65 year sentences). If Mr. Hill were challenged he has a problem, the facts do not support this idea.
Although crime rates are hard to compare between countries because of different ways of reporting things there is no evidence to suggest that the huge increase in prison populations has made the USA safer than other countries. In fact there is a lot of evidence to suggest that the USA is more dangerous (see link below comparing crime in USA and Canada)2. It is also important to note that in the past few years crime rates have gone down in both countries.
In 2012 Marion County Indiana had 112 homicides3. Marion county is where Indianapolis the largest city in Indiana is located and in 2011 the population was 911 296. In comparison the City of Toronto, 6 hours drive east of Indiana, had a population of 2.615 million people in 2011. Toronto had 54 homicide deaths in 20124. Toronto has almost three times the population of Marion County but the total number of murders is less than half the murders in Marion County.
If Mr. Hill’s assertion that jailing people makes communities safer then Canada must have a huge prison system given the huge difference in murder rate . . . just the opposite, the USA has a larger murder rate and a prison population 7 times larger per 100 000 people. The harsh laws that Mr. Hill supports don’t work, but he continues to support them. The logical approach is to look at what is going on in Canada and see if there are lessons that can be learned.
So, out of general interest I am going to explore what would have happened if Levi Sparks, Blake Layman, Anthony Sharp and Jose Quiroz were involved in the exact same incident but this time the crime was committed in Toronto Canada.
It is important at this point to acknowledge that Levi, Blake, Anthony and Jose did commit a crime in October of 2012 (Break and Enter). It is also important to acknowledge that Danzele Johnson was killed by a frightened Rodney Scott who was sleeping in his house when the boys broke in. These boys participated in a crime. Their friend Danzele was killed and Mr. Scott was seriously violated by their horrible behaviour. This behaviour cannot be condoned. These boys must learn an important lesson here. A well functioning society can’t have people acting with such disregard to others.
So if this crime were committed in Canada how would it be dealt with?
First the media would report that the crime was committed and that four people were charged. The news could report the name and show a picture of Anthony Sharp because he was over the age of 18 at the time of the offence. The news would then state that the others 3 charged were being charged under the Youth Criminal Justice Act and no names or pictures would be released.
Second the Crown (prosecution) in Canada would not be able to charge any of the boys (including Anthony Sharpe) with felony murder. Canada did have a felony murder law but the Canadian Supreme Court ruled the law unconstitutional stating “a conviction for murder requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt of a subjective foresight of death”. There is no way that you can argue this case and say Blake, Levi, Anthony and Jose went into that house thinking someone would die. If the Crown could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that these boys entered the house intending to kill the resident, but the resident shot first, then we would have a different situation, but the fact of this case do not support this idea.
So in Canada these boys would have been charged with the crime they committed – break and enter.
Anthony Sharp would go through the adult court system and would either accepted a plea deal or go to trial. If found guilty he probably would face a sentence of 12 to 36 months, but the judge could suspend the sentence based on Anthony Sharp’s character or make the sentence harsh based on character and any prior criminal record (if one exists). For crimes like this a very common sentence in Canada is 2 years less a day.
Blake, Levi and Jose would enter the Youth Criminal Justice System. The judge, Crown and defense team would work through the system. If they were found guilty or plead guilty then the Judge would need to impose a sentence. Legally the judge is mandated to impose a sentence that “strikes the best possible balance between the interests of the young person and the interests of society”3 This means the judge would need to ensure that the future of the offender is taken into account when punishment is decided. As well the judge needs to think about the interests of the community. Blake, Levi, and Jose might be incarcerated in a youth facility, sent to a diversion program or sent to do community service. There would be intensive support right away designed to make restitution and meet the best interests of the young person. Ideally the goal is to help the offender become a contributing member of society. If all goes well by the time they reached the age of 20 they would have completed their debt to society.
For Blake, Levi and Jose their names and details would never be made public. In Canada, only at the sentencing of a person that is under the age of 18 can a judge decide to publish the name and picture of the convicted. This is only used in the most horrific of murder cases and would not be used in this situation. Also at the age of 18 the record of this crime would be sealed. There is an understanding that teenagers do stupid things and part of being able to live a productive life after the penalty is not having a criminal record hanging over them for a crime committed at such a young age. Anthony Sharpe who was 18 at the time of the offence would have a criminal record for the rest of his life. Of course a record of the conviction would be kept for police to review incase there were future criminal concerns.
So you can see this case would have a very different outcome if it occurred just 6 hours east of Elkhart in Toronto Canada.
So in Indiana these boys will be locked away in prison for 45 years costing the tax payers millions of dollars. In Canada, as demonstrated above, their experience with the justice system would be very different. If the “lock them up and throw away the keys” crowd is correct, the USA must be a very safe country compared to Canada which does not send as many people to prison. Well statistics don’t show that to be true. Check out these international crime comparison charts (there are more in a link listed below). In many areas the USA has a higher rate of crime than Canada. Also, as mentioned above the USA has a higher rate of sending people to prison and for a much longer time.
The higher rate of burglary in some countries might reflect that people are more comfortable reporting this crime
So Curtis Hill is going to spend over 2.5 million dollars to imprison these boys for 45 years even though the statistics and research show it will do nothing to improve community safety. What this sentence will do for him is help with his re-election campaign.
Canada, like the USA does not have a perfect justice system. There is no perfect justice system in the world (although the re-offending rates experienced in Norway are very low). All justice systems make mistakes. Guilty people go free and innocent people are sent to prison. People we believe are ready for the outside world will re-offend and others will surprise us at how successful they are once they leave prison. Some Prosecutors use common sense when approaching cases while others only think of political advantage.
We need prosecutors and elected representatives who make decisions based on crime reduction, human dignity, victims rights, and common sense. We need our politicians to look at other justice systems and see what works. We can learn from the good things in other countries to improve the current system We can get rid of things like felony murder that do such damage.
What is evident is that the USA is spending billions of dollars yearly to keep millions of people in prison while having little success reducing crime compared to other countries that incarcerate much less. Other countries don’t spend as much on prisons but manage to have lower crime rates. This means “do the crime do the time” does not work. What is being done in criminal justice system in the USA is not working, but the strong evidence that tells us this being ignored by people in positions of authority like Curtis Hill because it fits with their political agenda.
Levi, Blake, Anthony and Jose are about to be thrown into this failing prison system and for the most part the public is fine with it, even though all the research indicates they will be worse off at the end of their sentence. At the time of the crime Levi, Blake and Jose could not vote, serve in the military or drink alcohol. This is because the State of Indiana did not believe them to be mature enough to partake in those activities. Mr. Hill, however believes that it is appropriate to send these kids away for decades into an abusive system which exposes them to the worst of the worst of society. I think another crime is about to be committed, but this time the government is at fault. This is not justice, it is pure politics.
Mr. Hill knows these statistics. He must, given his position in the legal community. He knows that harsh punishments don’t work, especially when people are charged with crimes they did not commit. Do not forget Mr. Hill was the person who made the crazy decision to charge felony murder. Mr. Hill also knows that through his actions there will be no redemption for these four boys and Elkhart Country will not be any safer. For him it is not about truth or common sense, it is about winning the next election. He is playing politics with these boys lives and he is about to win unless the people of Elkhart County stand up and tell him to stop.
Resources — September 1 — I have decided to add a bit more detail to my resources
This is where I got the quote from Curtis Hill
Scroll down all the pictures and you can see the graph that I have used comparing prison populations in several different countries. Per 1000 000 people the USA has so many more incarcerated people than other countries — especially Canada which was a focus of my writing.
Here is some information put out by Statistics Canada comparing crime rates in Canada and the USA
Here is an editorial in the Toronto Start by the former Children and Youth Minister Dr. Eric Hoskins. The main point of the editorial is highlighting budget cuts to the juvenile justice system from the national government. The reason I included this link can be found mainly in the first three paragraphs where Dr. Hoskins talks about the goals of the youth justice system in Ontario and how it is working.
This is a report compiled in the UK comparing crime rates in many western countries. I included two charts in my writing, but there are many others. It is an interesting read.
This is the Wikipedia article which talks about the Youth Criminal Justice Act in Canada. I am not a huge fan of Wikipedia but it is easier to access than huge government files. I have therefore also included the link to the full Canadian Youth Criminal Justice Act. The full act is complex but an interesting read. I have highlighted some aspects of the act, but remember that often what is in an act looks very different on paper than in practice. Like in all justice systems there are concerns with the implementations and even though Canada is an example it is by no means perfect (as I said before there is no perfect justice system.)
Here is the link detailing the number of murders in Marion County Indiana in 2012. What I find really interesting is the fact that police felt that 112 murders showed improvements for the city. I think this is to be commended, we all need to work to decrease murder rates, but when compared to the rate in Toronto Ontario for 2012 the numbers are significant.
Here is the official homicide statistics for Toronto as compiled by the Toronto Police. It is interesting to compare them to the numbers for Marion County given the population difference.
Here is info on the felony murder rule — specifically detailing the fact that the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the felony murder law unconstitutional in 1990. Again I have used wikipedia for a quick reference but I have included the original text of the ruling from the Supreme Court of Canada case. The case is R. v. Martineau. (R stands for Her Majesty the Queen v. Martineau)
BREAK AND ENTER IN CANADA
The crime of Break and Enter in Canada is an interesting crime. It can be broken into two groups Break and Enter and Home Invasion. Home Invasion is more serious and it is when a home is broken into while a resident is home and the criminal knew or had good reason to know the person was home and the criminal used violence or threats against the home owner. Home Invasion is a more serious crime then Break and Enter. The Crown might try that charge home invasion in the case of the Elkhart 4. There are some mitigating factors that might make that charge difficult for the Crown. First the boys determined (although falsely) that no one was home so their intent was to enter an unoccupied dwelling. Secondly from all accounts when they realised the home was occupied (shooting began) they tried to escape . . . this means the boys did not use violence or threats against the home owner.
Break and Enter is divided also into dwelling or non-dwelling. The case of the Elkhart 4 would be a break and enter into a dwelling. In Canada for this crime the judge can sentence anywhere from no sentence to life with parole. As mentioned in the links listed below there are many things the judge needs to consider while determining the sentence and most sentences for adults where the judge decides a prison sentence is needed result in 12 – 36 months. In Canada if you are sentenced to two or more years in prison you go to a federal facility. Less than two years you are in a provincial prison. That is why two years less a day is a common punishment. The sentences discussed above are adult sentences. For Levi, Blake and Jose the sentence would be determined under the Youth Criminal Justice System.
I hope this helps. If you know of any reports or stats that would add to this debate please send the link my way in the comments section. Thanks