Justice Department reviewing two-year James sentence

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As the outrage builds over the two-year prison sentence Graham James was handed yesterday, the Manitoba Justice Department is considering the merits of an appeal, reports the Winnipeg Free Press.

Provincial Court Judge Catherine Carlson handed down her decision in a packed Winnipeg courtroom and was almost immediately criticized across the country for being too lenient on the former junior hockey coach.

He had pleaded guilty to repeatedly and systematically sexually abusing former NHL star Theoren Fleury and Todd Holt, Fleury’s younger cousin, when he coached them as teenagers during the 1980s and early 1990s.

The Crown wanted a six-year sentence while the defence asked for a conditional sentence with no jail time.

The two-year sentence means James will serve his sentence in a federal prison. He is eligible for day parole in September, when he will have served six months. He’s eligible for full parole when he serves one-third of his sentence, meaning he could be released in November.

Granted I’m not a lawyer, but unless the Crown can prove the judge made an error of law, I’d presume a successful appeal is unlikely. (Again, not a lawyer.)

Via the Manitoba Court of Appeal:

In an appeal, the person who lost in the lower court argues that the judge made a mistake. For example, the judge in the lower court may have used the wrong law. It is important to identify what mistake you think the judge made. An appeal court cannot change the decision just because they disagree with it. The lower court is entitled to hear the evidence and come to its own decision. The appeal court may only change that decision if the lower court made a mistake as to the law or significantly misunderstood the evidence.

So far I haven’t heard anyone argue the judge made a legal error – only sweeping statements that James should’ve been handed a stiffer sentence.

As Postmedia’s Christie Blatchford points out, Carlson was limited by “all the decisions by other judges that came before hers.”

Blatchford adds the key point: “Common sense is not so constrained or constipated, and it is that which sometimes separates the law from public opinion.”