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Rangefindr: Sentencing Research Simplified

As much as all criminal lawyers like to claim they don’t need to know anything about sentencing (since none of their clients are found guilty), that just isn’t the reality.  The vast majority of people charged with criminal offences are found guilty of an offence.  Once this finding is made, either by way of a plea or after a trial, the focus turns to the sentencing stage.

The ability of a counsel to make able sentencing submissions is one of the most important parts of the criminal court process.  It could mean the difference between a criminal conviction and a discharge, a fine or a term in jail, or even several years in the penitentiary.

Being able to show a Judge decisions of other courts in similar circumstances can be very helpful in justifying a sentencing position.  While the cases presented in most circumstances will not be binding on a sentencing court, they can serve as extremely persuasive argument and, in many cases, sway a Judge one way or the other.

Enter Rangefindr.

Created as a hobby-turned-business by Legal Aid Ontario employee Matthew Oleynik, Rangefindr is a vast database of sentencing decisions.

Unlike other legal research tools, Rangefindr is designed for the novice.  When looking for sentencing precedents I don’t have to come up with my own search terms, or figure out which terms a Judge may have used in a decision similar to the case I am researching.  Instead, I just go through a long list of case factors, and Rangefindr finds cases that are “on point” – all I have to do is check off boxes.  For example, if I wanted to find cases where an accused with a drug addiction was sentenced for an assault causing bodily harm against their spouse, I just check off the relevant boxes, and Rangefindr provides result.

The true power of the tool, however, may not be in its amazing search features, but in the results.  In other research tools once I would put in my search terms I’d get a list of cases which I could then click on and determine whether they would be useful.  In these searches some cases may be relevant and some may ultimately have nothing to do with what I’m researching.  Rangefindr provides a very succinct summary of the case and its result.  I can then click a link at the top and be taken directly to a publicly available version of the case on Canlii.

In my very brief usage of Rangefindr, I’m quite impressed.  Matthew has clearly put a lot of work into this program.  I can see it being a very useful tool for any criminal lawyer.

This blog post was written by Toronto Criminal Lawyer Adam Goodman. Adam can be reached at 416-477-6793 or by email at adam@aglaw.ca.