The PLEA: Learning about Law with The Simpsons

The PLEA: Learning about Law with The Simpsons

Crime and Punishment: Marge in Chains

This verdict is written on a cocktail napkin. And it still says guilty!

Criminal law sets a standard of behaviour for all people who live in our country. Its main purpose is to protect society and to keep communities peaceful and safe. When a person’s behaviour does not meet the standards set out in the Criminal Code and other laws, they could face criminal charges. In the season four episode “Marge in Chains,” Marge Simpson found herself in such circumstances by stealing a bottle of bourbon.

The situation surrounding Marge’s theft was complex. A flu epidemic left Marge to take care of her entire sick family. Exhausted, Marge appeared to accidentally forget to pay for a bottle of bourbon at the Kwik-E-Mart. Marge was caught, then charged with and found guilty of theft. She was sentenced to 30 days in the Springfield Women’s Prison.

Sentences for Theft in Canada

Canada’s Criminal Code divides theft into two types:

  • Theft of something worth more than $5,000 is an indictable offence. Indictable offences are considered more serious crimes. Sentences for indictable offences range from short periods to life imprisonment.
  • Theft of something worth less than $5,000 may be dealt with as either an indictable or summary offence. Summary offences are generally considered more simple matters, and have a maximum six month jail term and a maximum fine of $5,000. Juries are not used in summary offence trials.

In most cases if a judge or jury finds a person guilty, the defence lawyer and the Crown Prosecutor each recommend a sentence to the judge, then the judge chooses from the range of sentences set by law. There are principles followed for determining a sentence. The sentence should:

  • denounce the criminal conduct
  • deter the offender and others
  • separate offenders from society when necessary
  • assist in rehabilitating the offender
  • provide reparation to the victim and the community
  • give a sense of responsibility to the offender

The sentence should be proportionate to the degree of responsibility of the offender, and be based on sentences for similar crimes and circumstances from across the country.

As well, the person’s situation affects the judge’s decision. The judge considers such things as the person’s age, whether they are employed, and whether they suffer from a mental or physical illness. In some communities the judge conducts a sentencing circle. This involves community members such as Elders, friends, or neighbours gathering informally to discuss what sentence is appropriate. Sentencing circles may help make the person accountable to the community.

  1. Federal penitentiaries are operated by Correctional Services of Canada. What is the significance of the term “Correctional” in the name?
  2. Review the principles and circumstances involved in sentencing. Do you think Marge’s 30-day jail sentence was fair, given her actions? Why or why not?

Albert Camus' The Plague: The Learning Resource