Immaturity cited as reason why he should be given slack
Take the case of Evan Shepherdson.
Shepherdson is slated to be sentenced Feb. 25 for pleading guilty to a variety of sex-related criminal charges, including one count of possession of child pornography.
In a statement of facts read in court, Shepherdson admitted that in 2010, he convinced two girls living in the United States, aged 12 and 13, to engage in sexually explicit behaviour with him through instant messaging programs. During these chats, he asked for, and received, pornographic images from them.
Shepherdson, aged 20 at the time, returned the favour, sending images of his genitals and asking the 13-year-old victim to find "some random guy" and have sex with him in a washroom. He also detailed, in court, plans to travel to the United States, rent a hotel room and have sex with one of his victims.
His defence lawyer, George Sirois, argued Jan. 12 that his client should be given leniency in sentencing. He stated that his client is too emotionally stunted, immature, and should be given the same protection afforded to a young offender — due to growing up with siblings who bullied him.
While acknowledging that Shepherdson will face time in prison, as some of the charges against him carry mandatory terms, Sirois argued that his client "needs help and treatment," not a harsh prison sentence.
"Attempting to gain leniency by portraying a guilty individual as a victim of circumstance, is unfair when the guilty party seeks out children for sexual reasons."
In an interview with the Calgary Journal, Sirois said that the needs for deterring crime must be balanced with the rehabilitation process.
The part of the Criminal Code that deals with sentencing for adults, s.718, does allow for contextual factors — such as the client's immaturity — to factor into sentencing decisions, and says:
"A sentence should be similar to sentences imposed on similar offenders for similar offences committed in similar circumstances."
While it is important to balance the rehabilitation process of our criminal justice system with the punishment component, especially with someone who is barely an adult, it doesn't necessarily make sense to give Shepherdson leniency for his crimes.
The reasoning is fairly simple, especially given the specifics of his crimes: having access to the Internet and spending significant amounts of time online means that the chances of not understanding that it is wrong to make sexual overtures to children is virtually non-existent.
To be fair, father and son Ronald and Stephen Holmes, criminologists at the University of Lousiana and University of Central Florida, acknowledge that immaturity is a trait that can be found in child molesters.
Their book, "Profiling Violent Crimes: An Investigative Tool," identifies one type as the "naïve, or inadequate" molester, someone who usually suffers from some form of mental disorder which makes them unable to distinguish between right or wrong. They also tend to be loners due to being unable to forge personal relationships with adults.
The other type is the "fixated" molester, who is usually seen as being immature and is uncomfortable around adults. The offender is seen as being "childlike" and prefers children because they are easily dominated.
With that said, it's hard to see Shepherdson as meeting either of these criteria or as a person worthy of sympathy or leniency.
A look at what appears to be Shepherdson's Facebook page shows him joking about Pedobear, a semi-popular online image. Pedobear is an animated bear used to mock pedophiles and pedophilia.
The argument that Shepherdson is too immature to be sentenced for his crimes seems ridiculous, especially since Shepherdson's lack of life experience includes possessing knowledge of an Internet character that requires specific knowledge of pedophilia in order to understand the joke, as well as having sufficient Internet know-how.
He also brags about being someone to whom his friends, of which he has 167 on Facebook, come for help dealing with problems.
For someone who is a loner and doesn't have a great deal of life experience, it seems strange that he would have so many friends and that these friends would come to him for advice.
The pleas for leniency also ignore Shepherdson's apparent technical savvy — accounts purporting to be him are on numerous social media sites. Also, the computer that was seized from him had child pornography on it that had been viewed and subsequently was deleted.
There is a need to balance the public's interest to deter people from committing crimes and rehabilitating individuals. However, attempting to gain leniency by portraying a guilty individual as a victim of circumstance, is unfair when the guilty party seeks out children for sexual reasons.
- By Trevor Presiloski