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Landmark Case: Mandatory Minimum Sentence for Murder – R. v. Latimer

Each OJEN Landmark Case includes a case summary, classroom discussion questions and worksheets that encourage students to explore both the legal and societal importance of the case.

R. v. Latimer is a landmark Canadian case dealing with mandatory minimum sentences for murder. Robert Latimer’s 12-year old daughter, Tracy, suffered from cerebral palsy which rendered her immobile and unable to speak, with the mental capacity of an infant. In 1993, after Tracy had been subject to numerous surgeries, Mr. Latimer carried her to his pickup truck where she died from carbon monoxide poisoning. Mr. Latimer was convicted of second degree murder and was sentenced to imprisonment for life with no eligibility of parole for 10 years.

Mr. Latimer challenged the sentence on the grounds that the mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years for second degree murder constituted cruel and unusual punishment, contrary to s. 12 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He also argued that the jury at the trial should have been entitled to consider the defence of necessity, which would have allowed them to determine whether Mr. Latimer committed the crime out of necessity.

The Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) dismissed Mr. Latimer’s appeal and upheld his life sentence with no parole eligibility for 10 years. The SCC held that the mandatory minimum sentence for second degree murder was constitutional and consistent with the goals of sentencing. The court also ruled that the trial judge was correct in not allowing the jury to consider the defence of necessity. The full decision is available here.

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