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Making sense of Lamb's plea bargain: a how-to

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The equation is simple.

No evidence = no case. No case = no conviction.

So it's curious to me to see so much angst and questioning of the plea deal and joint-recommendation that saw a double killer sentenced to 20 years without a chance at parole for at least nine (3,285 days) for the killings of Carolyn Sinclair and Lorna Blacksmith. Not to mention he's already been in for about 18 months. 

We should be sending thank-you cards to the Manitoba Prosecution Service for the deal they were able to reach and secure with defence lawyer Martin Glazer in the Shawn Lamb case, which puts Lamb behind bars for a very long time.

In fact, it was said many times in court Lamb could die in jail before he gets out. 

Instead, there's now wide-spread criticism of a very good deal. And a profound lack of understanding, apparently, about the plea bargaining process, how it works and how our justice system would grind to a halt without it.

Instead of haranguing you further, I simply present senior Crown attorney Sheila Leinburd's fantastic and frank explanation in court regarding the plea deal, why it was arrived at, and what the alternative really was. (The facts of the case are here).

Usually, explanations of the how and why of plea arrangements aren't nearly as comprehensive.

For the record:

"It is clear upon perusal of all the facts before the court, this investigation was inherently both challenging and difficult for the City of Winnipeg police department.

Despite the best efforts and lengthy investigation of the Winnipeg Police Service, there is very limited evidence available to the Crown.

There are no witnesses to these two homicides. There was extremely limited forensic evidence.

And given the passage of time prior to the discovery of the bodies and the consequent deterioration of the bodies due to the exposure to the elements, there were limited medical findings in each of the autopsy reports - to the point in the instance of the death of Lorna Blacksmith there was no determined cause of death.

Consequently, the description of the killing of both of these women is left to be taken exclusively from the accused's own statement.

The conviction of Shawn Lamb therefore rests solely on his statements to the police, and on the admissibility into evidence of those statements.

Were there to be a voir dire on the admissibility of Lamb's statements, uncertainty existed as to whether or not the statements would, in fact, be ruled admissible by the court.

There are persuasive arguments that can be made on the part of the Crown as to the admissibility of these statements.

Equally, there are compelling arguments that can be made by the defence to the exclusion of the statements.

Consequently, and after careful examination of this exigency by the Crown, the admission into evidence of these three inculpatory statements which are necessary for the conviction of the accused, cannot be reasonably assured.

It is fair to state that in this particular case there can be no real certainty as to the admission of the accused's statement. It is equally fairly stated - but for the admission of the accused's statement into evidence, that the Crown's case would fail.

Given the lack of any other available evidence to the Crown, the significance of the potential exclusion of the accused's statement from evidence takes on additional weight.

In fact, its potential for exclusion - in fact, likely exclusion - takes on critical significance in terms of management of the prosecution.

Justice Rick Saull: You said, 'Likely exclusion?'

Leinburd: Yes. And I say reasonably, likely it would have been excluded. There was a real possibility to that.

Consequently, the evidentiary exigencies in this particular case are such that were the statements to be ruled inadmissible that there would have been little, if any likelihood of the prospect of holding Shawn Lamb responsible for the deaths of either Lorna Blacksmith or Carolyn Sinclair.

There would be no accountability on the part of the accused for those tragic events, nor would there be certainty for two affected families or the public at large.

In return for those exigencies in the evidence, the accused has given up his right to a trial. He has entered guilty pleas to two counts of manslaughter in exchange for consideration.

This consideration has taken the form of a reduction of the original charges from murder to manslaughter and the sexual assault allegations currently before the provincial court will not proceed.

These resolution discussions were the result of lengthy, methodical, comprehensive and scrupulous consideration by both the Crown and defence counsel.

Rather than expose both of these two tragically impacted families and the public at large to the risk that Shawn Lamb may walk free ... it is the Crown and defence counsel's considered opinion that this is in fact the quintessential instance of a true quid pro quo."

[EDIT 23/11/2013 — CORRECTS TYPOS] 

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