Wednesday, September 28, 2011


I have to admit still being puzzled by suspended prison sentences. To me, a crime is either so serious that only a prison sentence is appropriate or it isn't. What are we actually saying when we suspend a sentence ? And how do you explain it to the victim of a crime when the perpetrator "gets off with" a suspended sentence order.

I had two recent examples that might help. Both of these came into my court on the same day.

(1) A rather nasty common assault - two drunk young women beat up another drunk woman - with kicks and blows to the head with stiletto shoes. Had a bunch of equally drunk lads not intervened, I'm sure there would have been a murder. Both girls had little previous. Sentence : 12 weeks immediate custody

(2) Local cab driver with a serious cocaine addiction that he funded by stealing golf equipment from cars at the many plush golf courses in my area. Charged with theft and possession. Fairly extensive previous for similar. Sentence : 12 weeks suspended.

So what were the difference ?

* The girls had no dependents i.e. nobody else would be harmed by them being imprisoned
* The girls had committed a violent crime
* The girls were first-time offenders
* The cabbie had substance issues that probation reckoned could be addressed through a drug treatment programme. This could prevent further offending in a way that 12 weeks prison would be unlikely to manage.
* The cabbie had children.

There's no scientific way of putting the above together and deciding to get G4S to take the girls down and releasing the cabbie rather than vice-versa. We could have decided it was a "bit extreme" to send two first-timers to prison. We could have decided that the cabbie's considerable previous meant that he was due some stick this time. In the end, we need to decide which outcome is best for society as a whole.

Now there's a phrase that bears repeating : "... we need to decide which outcome is best for society as a whole"

Heck of a job description, isn't it ?!


The Defence Brief said...

If you don't understand suspended sentences I do have to ask whether you really are suitable to be sitting! I suggest you ask for further training.

Stan said...

Ouch - having a bad day ?

I understand the mechanics pretty well, my puzzlement is around the ethics of suspending a sentence.