Criminal sentencing must surely
be one of the most difficult jobs a judge faces, requiring the careful
balancing of oft-times competing principles such as deterrence and
rehabilitation. The sentence that is right for the accused seldom
satisfies the victim.
Generally, judges strike an
acceptable - if not perfect - balance between these competing demands.
Sometimes, however, they miss the mark.
The recent case of Henry Danninger is one of these misses - and by a wide margin.
Danninger, now 30, a Brockville
native living in Ottawa as a narcotics dealer at the time, went to an
Ottawa bar on the night of December 23, 1998, armed with a knife to
confront a friend he suspected had stolen some of his marijuana.
While there, he got in a
confrontation. Andrew Moffitt, 23, also of Brockville, was in the bar
celebrating the end of exams at the University of Ottawa. Moffitt tried
to break up the altercation when he was stabbed by Danninger.
Moffitt died from his injuries and Danninger was charged with murder.
Last fall, Danninger pleaded
guilty to manslaughter and on March 27 he was sentenced to five years
in prison by Justice Roydon Kealey.
He will be eligible for parole in less than two years.
Sentencing is not about
vengeance, but a sentence must nonetheless reflect the community's
condemnation of such a senseless act. And it must serve to deter not
only the killer, but others, from committing similar acts.
Five years for killing Andrew Moffitt does not do this.
Henry Danninger went to the
Ottawa bar armed for trouble. Meanwhile, Andrew Moffitt was in no way
the author of his own misfortune. Surely this should be an aggravating
There is another reason to question Justice Kealey's rationale for leniency.
Danninger was given the usual
double credit for time spent in pre-trial custody, but his sentence was
also reduced in consideration of the strict conditions he was ordered
to follow while on bail.
We question whether time spent
out on bail should be used to reduce the sentence in any circumstances,
but it was particularly inappropriate in the Danninger case.
As a court in Brockville heard
last week, Danninger did not obey the conditions of his release. In
fact, he pleaded guilty to mischief, prowling at night and breaching
his recognizance to keep the peace.
The charges were laid after
Danninger was arrested for throwing urine and feces on a neighbour's
car while out on bail on the murder charge.
It's not like Danninger simply
snapped or made a one-time mistake, either. He started dumping
excrement on his neighbour's vehicle in February 2002 and continued
regularly until April 2002, when he was arrested. (Danninger also
received a remarkably light sentence, in light of the circumstances,
for these crimes - just 30 days in jail).
behaviour while out on bail, it is incomprehensible that Justice Kealey
would give Danninger credit for this time.
Justice Kealey told the Moffitt
family it is time to move on with their lives. His decision to impose
such a lenient sentence on their son's killer, however, makes it that
much more difficult for them to follow his advice.
Published in Section A, page
6 in the Friday, April 11, 2003 edition of the Brockville Recorder & Times. Posted 4:30:40 PM Friday, April 11, 2003.