Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Habitual Offender Definition:

A person who is convicted and sentenced for crimes over a period of time and even after serving sentences of incarceration, demonstrates a propensity towards future criminal conduct.

Related Terms: Long-Term Offender, Faint Hope Clause, Danger to Society

Reformation techniques fail to alter the behaviour of the habitual offender.

Also known as habitual criminal, one such offender was described as:

"This man is about 37 years of age.  He was convicted of theft over $50.00 on February 16, 1966.  This offence arose out of a skid road brawl in which Gallichon and a confederate removed a watch from a truck driver.  There was evidence that all parties had been drinking at the time of this offence.  On February 7, 1967 he was found to be an habitual criminal and sentenced to preventive detention.....

"(He) is a drifter and indicated in the witness box that he had not worked for many, many years.  He has a background of beating up drunken or elderly people and taking their possessions.  He has consistently manifested hostility towards police and prison authorities.  While in prison he has presented custodial problems and has been involved in an escape and an attempted escape.  He also has on numerous occasions attempted suicide. The evidence lead [sic] in the case plus his bearing in the witness box convinced me that he is an unstable and potentially dangerous person and I think that the public safety dictates that he be kept in close confinement."

 Many countries now have special laws that require the long-term incarceration, without parole, or the graduated or complete removal of legal rights or entitlements, of habitual offenders as a means of protecting society in the face of an individual that appears unable to comply with the law.

For example, the traffic regulations of the Canadian province of Prince Edward Island says that a driver's license may be denied to:

"... to a habitual offender who has been convicted of two or more offences against (impaired driving) sections ... of the Criminal Code unless the Registrar is satisfied that he has successfully undergone curative treatment in relation to his consumption of alcohol."

Law enforcement agencies may also target habitual offenders for surveillance and observation. In 1999, the Federal Court of Canada remarked that:

"Indian police (not only in Punjab but elsewhere too) keep lists of habitual offenders. These "history sheeters" are then brought in for questioning whenever there is a crime committed in a given region."

In 1997, Canada's Parliament opted for the related designations of dangerous offender or long-term offender.


  • Gallichon v. Commissioner of Corrections 101 CCC 3d 414 (1995)
  • Dulai v Canada at canlii.org/en/ca/fct/doc/1999/1999canlii8423/1999canlii8423.html

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