Going below the range: using social context evidence to get results in sentencing- Chris Rudnicki and Theresa Donkor


11am MST, Friday, 9 June 2023

The modern sentencing trilogy – Lacasse, Friesen, and Parranto – are frequently cited by Crown attorneys to justify higher sentences in drunk driving, sexual assault, and fentanyl trafficking cases. But read together, they stand for a powerful and defence-friendly sentencing proposition: a trial judge is free to impose a sentence well below the range where they feel it is proportionate to the circumstances of the offence and offender. In this seminar, Chris Rudnicki and Theresa Donkor explain how they achieved the result in R v Kelly, 2022 ONSC 5500: a conditional sentence for an offender convicted of imposing 1 kg of cocaine. In particular, they discuss the potential for social context evidence to justify unusually low sentences.

Chris Rudnicki is lead counsel at Rudnicki & Company, a criminal defence firm in Toronto. He specializes in criminal law and has experience in complex, serious, and precedent-setting cases at every level of court. Chris began his career as a trial lawyer, shifting to appellate work in 2019. Though most of Chris’s work today consists of indictable appeals to the Court of Appeal for Ontario, he maintains a small trial, regulatory defence, and animal law practice. Chris sees his law practice as a means of achieving just results for individual clients while contributing to the progressive development of the legal system as a whole.

Theresa Donkor is associate counsel at Rudnicki & Company. She practices criminal defence, with a focus on appeals from conviction and sentence to the Court of Appeal for Ontario. She also acts for lawyers in professional disciplinary proceedings. Theresa’s practice focuses on racial justice. She has advocated for lower sentences to account for systemic anti-Black racism, the need to account for disproportionately harsh jail conditions faced by racialized prisoners, and the importance of cultural competence when representing Black defendants. Theresa sees herself first and foremost as an advocate and works tirelessly to deliver the best results for her clients.

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