One of my longstanding pet peeves is sentencing double-standards applied to police officers who break the law, so while my blood pressure rose briefly when I first came across this case, ultimately, it dropped once I read the details and agreed with Judge A. Peter Ross’s sentencing decision in R. v. Planetta, 2021 NSPC 30.
Nobody – not the Crown Prosecutor, not the Defence Attorney and not the Judge – wanted Cape Breton Regional Police Constable Kristopher Karl Planetta to have a criminal record, despite the two findings of guilt for assaulting his ex-wife.
From the decision:
The Crown seeks a suspended sentence and 18 months probation. The Defence seeks a discharge, absolute or upon conditions. There are strong considerations on either side. This makes for a difficult decision.
In deciding Planetta was guilty of both counts, Judge Ross noted:
The occupation of the defendant has drawn some attention to this case, but for the purpose of trial the fact he was a police officer is irrelevant.
Judge Ross readily admits these assaults are on the minor end of the domestic assault spectrum, but does not acknowledge that domestic violence typically ‘starts small’ and builds into greater levels of violence over time. This is the pattern of such abuse.
Judge Ross then went on to explain his reasons for not believing Constable Planetta’s version of events, and I’ve quoted extensively from the decision in this case:
With respect to his demeanour, the defendant displayed no obvious animosity towards the complainant, no obvious embarrassment when confronted with the allegations, and no patent dishonesty. [..] The misgivings I have about his evidence arise from contradictions and other factors discussed below.
Implausibilities within, and inconsistencies between various accounts serve to strain the defendant’s credibility. I do not accept his version of the bedroom incident nor that of the front door incident. Neither does his testimony, considered in the context of the complainant’s testimony and all the other evidence in the case, give rise to reasonable doubt about the veracity of the complainant’s allegations on either occasion. The complainant presented as a credible and reliable witness. Her testimony serves to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she was assaulted by the defendant, in the way she describes, on both occasions.
The defendant is found guilty on both counts in the Information.
Constable Planetta was convicted of assaulting his ex-wife twice, yet the judge refused to issue a Firearms Prohibition Order under Section 109 of the Criminal Code, normally standard practice in domestic violence convictions.
What I especially appreciate about this decision is Judge Ross’s thorough examination of past decisions with respect to conditional discharges for police officers and relating their relevance to the case before him. While I won’t quote those portions of the sentencing decision, if you’re at all curious I encourage you to read the sentencing decision in its entirety.
The Sentencing Decision:
(a) the relatively minor nature of the two assaults,
(b) the lack of any prior criminal record or employment-related complaints,
(c) the efforts made by the accused to develop healthier relationships by undertaking various forms of counselling,
(d) the consequences already suffered as a result of his wrongdoing, which include removal from police duties for three years and the imposition of court-ordered conditions during that time,
I do not think that it is contrary to the public interest to grant the accused a conditional discharge coupled with probation for one year. Should he commit another offence or breach the terms of probation, his sentence can be revisited by the court and a conviction substituted for the discharge.
Terms of probation will include
(1) the usual reporting clause,
(2) a requirement to undertake such personal or domestic violence counselling as may be recommended, and
(3) a prohibition against direct or indirect contact with the victim Amanda MacDonald and from attending at her residence or place of employment, except
(i) through legal counsel,
(ii) with her express prior consent, which she may withdraw at any time, or
(iii) as may be authorized by an order of the Supreme Court Family Division or permitted under any court program.
Crown has also asked for an order under s.487.051 that the accused provide a DNA sample for inclusion in the national databank.
I do not think the circumstances here support the issuance of such an order against Mr. Planetta. Considering the nature of the offences, the fact that these were not ‘random’ occurrences, the absence of any attempt to hide his identity, the lack of any prior record, the absence of any indication that Mr. Planetta is likely to be a repeat offender, and the fact that I am imposing a discharge, I am not making the requested s.487.051 order.
I also decline to impose a firearms prohibition under s.110. There was no actual or threatened use of a firearm here, nor any indication that the accused is prone to resort to the use of firearms while on duty. Such a prohibition would be a de facto bar to him resuming regular work. It would fetter the discretion others should possess when they evaluate his employment prospects.
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