Monday, March 20, 2006

Sentencing Poll

We have before us a 58 year-old white male with no previous convictions and a clean driving licence. The facts are these:-
He was stopped by police at 10 p.m. while driving his Ford Mondeo. He was nearing the end of a 40 mile round trip to see his grandchildren. Police noticed that he was exceeding the speed limit, and when they spoke to him they smelt alcohol on his breath. He failed the roadside test, was arrested, and at the police station provided an evidential sample that showed a breath reading of 144mcg/100ml (that's equivalent to a blood reading of about 320, just four times the limit). He was cooperative with police. Another bench has adjourned the case for a pre-sentence report with all sentencing options open, and a warning that custody must be an option.
We read the report. The defendant is working, and lives alone following his divorce. Despite the extremely high level of alcohol there is no evidence of bad driving nor was there any accident. In interview he admits that he is an alcoholic who drinks heavily every day, and who has driven while over the limit on many occasions. He says that he wants to tackle his drinking but needs help to do it.
Probation say that the court may see no alternative to prison, but suggest that if the sentence is suspended the court can attach further conditions including alcohol treatment.
The defence lawyer is realistic. He concedes that the Sentencing Bench Book (link here page 164 of pdf) has this offence firmly in the custody bracket but asks us to consider the report's recommendation and to suspend the sentence while imposing further conditions of supervision and alcohol treatment. He reminds us of his client's remorse, and that he is entitled to a reduction of one-third for his plea of guilty. He is a man who has never before been in a court and this experience has been a gruelling one for him.
We file out to the retiring room. In discussion your colleague Jeremy takes a compassionate line. He points out that there was no accident or bad driving and that the defendant is remorseful. Sending him inside will be purely punitive, and he will receive no help for his alcohol problem in the two months or so that he will actually serve. He wants a suspended sentence plus supervision and alcohol treatment. Pamela takes a different view. She says that apart from being four times the limit, our man drove a considerable distance during which time the public were at great risk of death and injury. She wants to send him straight inside. To do any less will send the wrong message to the public. So it's down to you.
There is a Poll Here for you to say how you would handle it.
What we agreed on in addition was to disqualify him for three years, order him to take an extended re-test, and to make him pay costs of £75. DVLA are likely to insist on medical reports before giving him a licence because he is a high-risk offender.

We will let the poll run until we have a few replies, then I'll tell you what we did (this case is in fact a composite of three from the last year).

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