Locating Hard-to-Find Sentencing Decisions

Guest post by Melanie R. Bueckert, Legal Research Counsel – Manitoba Court of Appeal

Rangefindr is another one of the excellent research resources available to members of the Law Society of Manitoba through the Member Portal

Rangefindr logo

While Rangefindr is extremely helpful for all kinds of criminal sentencing research, it is particularly useful when trying to locate cases that do not lend themselves to keyword searching.  For instance, imagine trying to find cases where a lawyer or a police officer is the accused person.  It would be very difficult to construct a keyword search to locate only those cases, without bringing up irrelevant results that also involved lawyers or police officers in other capacities.  Using Rangefindr, such cases can be identified with just a few clicks.

Instead of using Google-style keyword searching, Rangefindr is a filtering service.  To find cases where lawyers were sentenced, one can simply click on the “Accused” category at the top left-hand side of the Rangefindr query page. 

rangefindr accused filter

Scrolling down through the alphabetical list of filters (also called “tags”), clicking “Lawyer” reveals 63 cases in the Rangefindr database.  As soon as the filter is applied, the dispositions in the 63 cases are displayed on the right-hand side of the screen.  Apparently the 63 cases involved 4 absolute discharges, 3 conditional discharges, 10 conditional sentences, 2 intermittent sentences, 2 fines, 2 periods of probation and 40 imprisonments.

table of sentencing decisions

  By clicking “Show Durations”, the display on the right toggles to show a breakdown of the 40 prison sentences.  Clicking “View Cases” brings up the results page, which defaults to showing all 63 cases in reverse chronological order. 

table of imprisonment duration

The cases can also be sorted by “Highest Punishment”, “Lowest Punishment”, “Judge” and “Level of Court”. 

sorting options

Clicking “Tags Associated with this Case” expands the brief case summary to show all of the filters that are associated with the case. 

tags associated with case

Jurisdictional filters can be added by clicking “Edit Search” and choosing the desired jurisdiction(s) under the “Jurisdiction” category on the left-hand side of the screen.  Apparently there are 8 such cases from Manitoba in Rangefindr’s database.

jurisdiction options

  Rangefindr provides links to all of the case results in CanLII (which is where it draws its data from).  These links can be accessed for individual cases by clicking on “Download This Case” in the top-right corner.

Though the Rangefindr database is limited in scope (it generally includes appellate cases since 2000 and trial decisions from 2010 onward), it can help researchers quickly identify pertinent cases, particularly when they involve unique factual elements.  In case you are wondering, Rangefindr’s filters are applied by human editors who go through a rigorous training process. 

To learn more about using Rangefindr, check out the short video available at https://app.rangefindr.ca/help or their Getting Started guide.  For additional Rangefindr search tips, see https://tips.slaw.ca/2017/research/rangefindr-youre-doing-it-wrong/