Marsia Lazo, the 23-year-old woman who captivated the country for scaling a crane in Toronto, has been granted an absolute discharge and ordered to pay a $200 victim surcharge after pleading guilty to mischief.
In April, Lazo climbed a crane overnight at a construction site where she then became stranded for several hours. She was eventually rescued by a firefighter, which made headlines across the country and even across the world.
Given the disruption the event caused to the downtown core as well as the time the Toronto firefighters had to spend on rescuing her, some were surprised to find out that Lazo would not be facing jail time.
“Yes, there was a spectacle – but no one got hurt,” explained David Shulman, a criminal defence lawyer.
“I’m not trying to minimize what she did, but to put it in perspective, you have to think about all the other cases that are tried everyday: rape, murder, drunk driving, drug dealing, child pornography… On the grand scale of criminal conduct, it’s definitely on the less serious end of things, so it makes sense in this case that the crown proceeded summarily.”
When a case proceeds summarily it means that the accused is only entitled to trial in the Ontario Court of Justice before a judge, not before a jury or a higher court. It also means that the maximum punishment that can be imposed by a sentencing judge is lower – it’s only six months and is the more efficient way for a criminal charge to proceed.
“The people that rescued her obviously expended a lot of time and money – but no one was hurt, she didn’t hurt anyone,” said Shulman on why the Crown proceeded summarily.
The defence initially sought a conditional discharge but the judge actually lowered it to an absolute discharge which is the most lenient sentence that can be imposed at law. It’s essentially a finding of guilt without an actual conviction and what that means is that Lazo will not have a criminal record.
“If you look at the evidence put before the sentencing judge by the defence regarding the circumstances of the offender leading up to, at the time of, and after the offence, it’s understandable to see how Justice Blouin determined that an absolute discharge was the optimal sentence, explained Shulman. “In a case such as this, where you have a young offender struggling with addiction and mental health, both the offender and the public are often best served, in the long term, by a sentence that prioritizes rehabilitation over deterrence.”
The judge also has to be satisfied the imposition of discharge is not contrary to the interests of the public. Having a criminal record and the stigma and prejudice that is attached to it might actually disadvantage the public in the long run.
“When someone screws up in life and then its irreparable and they never get back on their feet and fulfill their potential, that’s not only a problem for them – that can often become a problem for society. Sometimes people even get into a downwards spiral and then they’re back before the courts and that’s the last thing anyone wants.”
While in the public court of opinion some may feel Lazo deserves a harsher sentence, it’s important to remember that she has already been through quite a bit.
“Even just the fact that she was charged, she was brought before the court- that’s a process in itself that there was a sentencing hearing. Especially with the level of publicity, all of that does achieve a measure of deterrence,” said Shulman.
“I don’t think at the end of the day she’s going to say ‘Oh i just got a discharge, not a conviction on my record, I’ll climb another crane’ because she went through a whole rigamarole to get to that point. I doubt she’d want to go through it again.
“Sentencing also has to take into consider rehabilitation and if someone is saddled with a criminal record, it can really hang over them for the rest of their life.”