Thecuriousmail’s Weblog

CRIME AND PUNISHMENT IN THE SUNSHINE STATE

Posted in Uncategorized by thecuriousmail on April 2, 2011

http://www.goldcoast.com.au/article/2011/02/19/292971_crime-and-court-news.html

A teenager was assaulted by another teenager on the Gold Coast (without provocation, one teenager came up behind the other and king-hit him). The teenager who was assaulted is now permanently brain-damaged, in a wheelchair, cannot speak, cannot feed or dress himself, and will require around the clock assistance for the rest of his life. The teenager who assaulted him was effectively given a 2 year prison sentence (The non-parole period. I think the sentence was 6 years). The judge said the teenager who committed the assault didn’t intend the consequences (although I remember the case of a bank robber who used a replica pistol that could not fire any bullets (so the robber’s intention was never to shoot anyone), but the judge said at sentencing that didn’t matter (the robber must be treated as if he could have shot someone, so maybe they make it up as they go along).

I would say two things about this: It is difficult, if not impossible, to know completely another person’s real intentions (even oneself about one’s own intentions), and when did the consequences of an action become so unimportant in determining punishment? The original assault was plainly cowardly, to hit someone from behind, and bizarre, with some kind of imagined justification in the perpetrator’s mind, and to talk about the teenager’s lack of intention to do the damage he did in fact do, as some kind of reason to sentence him to only 2 years in prison, is laughable. It is reasonable that the person committing the assault should understand that one possible consequence would be what actually did occur.

If I’m on a bridge over a pedestrian walkway, but can’t physically see if there are any pedestrians on the walkway below, and I throw a brick off the bridge and hit and kill someone on the pedestrian walkway, it seems my defence would be that I didn’t mean to kill anyone. But what happened was a real and foreseeable consequence, and to speak of what may or may not have been my intention, is not the most important point here. Two years imprisonment for permanently disabling a person is ridiculous, and is anyone arguing that such a sentence is likely to dissuade the offender (or anyone else) from acting in a similar manner in the future?? Not that I’ve heard. And certainly not by itself.

 I am NOT talking about an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Any sentence however should reflect the consequences of an action, but there should be an opportunity for a person to demonstrate a change of attitude. Whatever the original sentence of imprisonment (say 10 years, certainly more than the ridiculous 2 years), give the person an alternative of say 2 years imprisonment and 10 years working full-time in a nursing home, or with brain-damaged people. If they don’t complete that satisfactorily, then send them to prison for the 10 years. No doubt the now permanently disabled teenager and his family are very bitter, and this is understandable, but give the offender an opportunity to rehabilitate, and give the community some prospect that judicial decisions are being made with some regard to common-sense and community expectations.

 http://www.thechronicle.com.au/story/2010/05/04/killer-back-on-our-streets-triple-murder-convicted/

 A Toowoomba teenager has been released after 5 years in juvenile detention, convicted for involvement in 3 murders, 1 rape, and torture. His original sentence was 10 years (!), but as is apparently customary for a juvenile offender, he was released after half his sentence was served. So now the teenager at 21 is back in the community. To be disgusted by his crimes would not be surprisingly; I find it difficult to believe myself. I understand the offender was 16 yo at the time, I understand the offences were incredibly violent, and this unnamed individual is now living in the community.

I believe the original sentence should have been longer (say 25 years), and the offender should have served a longer minimum (say 10 years), and at that point he should be given a choice: finish your sentence as is, or as the offence occurred as a 16 yo, offer an agreement of parole where if he is ever convicted of a violent offence again, he goes to prison for the rest of his life, and have him work in the community for a period of time in a position that benefits the community. Give him the chance to act responsibly and rehabilitate. Can you imagine moving into a house, and unbeknown to you, you have just moved in beside him, he who was not so much just released from prison, as ejected into the community. He kills again and it is someone in your household. How would you feel?

The judge says they are not responsible for it (but they released him from prison), and the government says they are not responsible either (but they make the laws), And to you: bad luck, you were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, no fault of your own. Whoopee! Er, not good enough. Looks like the offenders are not the only ones denying any responsibility for their actions. I think the judge and the government are morally and legally culpable, and they should be held to account.

There is some discussion that (with what is perceived by the community as too) lenient sentences (and the sentences are ridiculously low compared to the consequences of the behaviour), are a result of pressure from the government on the judiciary, because the Queensland government is broke, and can’t afford to build any new prisons. In Queensland there has been almost a decade of near record prosperity, but apparently we became so broke that we have had to sell public-owned income-generating assets. As the Queensland government has demonstrated incompetency and corruption, there is likely at least some truth in the charge of government pressure.

 Particularly in regards to crimes of unprovoked violence, I think this is why the community has concerns about some judicial decisions. I remember a university law professor being interviewed on television, and he commented that courts are concerned with the law, not justice, and that sometimes the two coincide, and sometimes they don’t. The community seems to be saying that too often now are the two not coinciding, and that continuing examples of this is making the notion behind the rule of law increasingly meaningless.

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