Editorial: Dangerous versus long-term offenders

The public can be thankful police caught Matthew Byers before he could commit heinous acts on children.

In 2005, police picked up Byers, who had no criminal record at the time, in a wooded area near a school. They found him with a backpack containing child pornography and a rape kit consisting of condoms, duct tape, and electrical wire. They also turned up writings that detailed a plan to kidnap and rape a passing child.

In addition, police found further writings that outlined Byers’ plan to rape and murder the 11-year-old child of a friend. He was also convicted of attempted murder in another incident in which he was discovered breaking into the friend’s house the week before his arrest.

The case is an example of good police work. Given the evidence, it’s likely he was about to commit horrible acts on a young child. But should the justice system, as noted on page 1 of Law Times, have locked Byers up indefinitely?

His lawyer, Daniel Brodsky, says the recent court ruling by Justice Guy DiTomaso is an example of severely prosecuting someone for what he calls a thought crime. Certainly, Byers never made good on all of his plans and, as Brodsky points out, there was no physical harm to any of the intended victims. But that’s probably only because police stopped him. At the same time, DiTomaso notes in his detailed and thoughtful ruling the potential injury Byers would have caused if he had been able to carry out his plans.

“The torture Mr. Byers planned for his victims was slow and deliberate: designed to maximize their suffering and, at the same time, designed to maximize his own sexual gratification,” DiTomaso wrote.

In DiTomaso’s view, Byers satisfied the requirements for a dangerous offender designation, including a failure to control his sexual impulses, brutality, and a pattern of persistent aggressive behaviour. In doing so, DiTomaso concluded that Byers suffered from incurable disorders. But he also relied significantly on Byers’ written plans when he said that “no better or compelling evidence of Mr. Byers’ brutal and sadistic behaviour exists than his own writings,” as two expert witnesses had testified.

The case is disturbing, and while DiTomaso certainly did his job in considering the threat to public safety, it’s worth questioning whether a long-term offender designation would have been more appropriate. That alternative would have allowed authorities to supervise him for up to 10 years after serving his sentence.

Given that Byers never went on to commit his planned acts, that would have been a reasonable option that arguably would have allowed authorities to continue to protect the public. Of course, part of what prompted DiTomaso to rule as he did was the evidence that there’s no cure or readily successful treatment for the sexual disorders Byers suffers from. That’s unfortunate, as someone like Byers ideally wouldn’t have to go to jail indefinitely. But at least we have good police officers who in this case were able to prevent a serious crime from happening.

For related content, see "Client deserves second chance: lawyer."

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