Mon. Apr 15th, 2024

The Crown is appealing the sentence a former Cole Harbour teacher received in December for luring and kissing a 14-year-old female student in 2020.

Sean Patrick Palmer, a 51-year-old father of two, pleaded guilty in Dartmouth provincial court in April 2021 to charges of luring a child and sexual assault.

In a Dec. 9 decision, Judge Brad Sarson said the primary sentencing objectives of denunciation and deterrence could be achieved without imposing real jail time.

Sarson gave Palmer an eight-month conditional sentence of house arrest, to be followed by three years’ probation, which will include 100 hours of community service.

The prosecution, in a notice of appeal, says the sentence imposed by Sarson was “demonstrably unfit” and should be set aside and replaced by real jail time of 18 to 24 months on each count.

Because the Crown proceeded summarily on the charges, the appeal will be heard in Nova Scotia Supreme Court rather than the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal.

A date for the appeal hearing is expected to be set when lawyers appear in Supreme Court on March 24.

Palmer committed the offences over a five-week period in February and March 2020 while he was a teacher at Sir Robert Borden Junior High School. He gave the girl his cellphone number and, after exchanging flirtatious text messages, kissed her on the lips on two occasions.

RCMP began investigating March 6, 2020, after friends of the victim informed school administration Palmer had had inappropriate contact with the girl. School officials placed Palmer on leave that day, and RCMP announced criminal charges two weeks later.

Palmer was initially charged with sexual assault and sexual exploitation. In October 2020, police added a charge of sexual interference and two counts of internet luring.

He lost his teaching job and his marriage after he was charged. He now lives in Delhi, Ont., where he takes care of his elderly father-in-law.

Charter violations

Palmer’s sentencing was initially set for November 2021, but the hearing was postponed after the judge who had accepted the guilty pleas went on leave for undisclosed health-related reasons.

The case was assigned to Sarson last summer. The defence then filed a pair of motions claiming violations of Palmer’s charter rights.

The defence argued Palmer’s right to be sentenced in a timely fashion had been breached, and that the mandatory minimum sentence of six months in jail for each offence would violate his right not to be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment.

In a Sept. 29 decision, Sarson agreed the institutional delay in sentencing was unreasonable. He said the “appropriate remedy” for the charter violation would be a reduction in sentence.

The judge then ruled on the constitutionality of the mandatory minimum sentences, saying a combined one-year minimum jail term would be “grossly disproportionate.” He said a proportionate penalty would be a jail term of between 90 days and six months, or a conditional sentence.

Sarson heard sentencing submissions in October and November.

Defence lawyers Ron Pizzo and George Franklin recommended a conditional sentence of between 90 days and six months, followed by a period of probation.

Crown attorney Stacey Gerrard argued a conditional sentence would not be appropriate given the abuse of trust and Palmer’s high degree of moral culpability. She asked for the longest jail term possible plus probation.

The judge said he was satisfied that permitting Palmer to serve the sentence in the community would be consistent with the fundamental purposes and principles of sentencing.

Low risk to reoffend

Sarson noted that a forensic psychologist who conducted a sexual-offender assessment on Palmer in 2021 said he poses a low risk of reoffending. The psychologist said a “perfect storm” of factors in Palmer’s life placed him at a high risk of violating boundaries and rules at the time of the offences.

“I want to point out to those who think that this may be a lenient sentence that a conditional sentence order is a sentence of imprisonment served in the community,” the judge said.

“Mr. Palmer will be on house arrest every day of that eight-month sentence.”

Lawyers returned to court last week for further submissions on how long Palmer should be required to register as a sex offender and whether the judge should impose discretionary restrictions on his internet use and contact with children.

Sarson ordered Palmer to register as a sex offender for 10 years and imposed a five-year prohibition on working or volunteering in any capacity that would involve a position of trust or authority over persons under the age of 16.

In its notice of appeal, the Crown claims the judge erred in finding Palmer’s charter rights had been violated and in giving him a conditional sentence.

By Admin

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