Big reduction in prison time for guilty pleas [part two]
Last week, this column took a global look at the effects of the Criminal Justice (Administration) (Amendment) Act, 2015 and the Judicature (Appellate Jurisdiction) (Amendment) Act, 2015, both of which came into force on November 30, 2015. This week, focus will primarily be centred on some of the factors to be considered in determining a reduction in sentence.
The factors to be considered by the court in determining the reduction of sentence are many and varied. Some are outlined in the Act. For instance, the court will determine whether the reduction would be disproportionate to the seriousness of the offence. So, in circumstances where the crime has left physical injuries, scars and emotional distress on the victim, especially where the victim is a young person, the court may be reluctant to give any big discount in prison time so as to avoid sending the wrong signal to the victim, in particular, and the wider society.
Another factor is whether the reduction is inappropriate to the extent that it would shock the public conscience. These types of sentence reductions are usually those that grab the headlines in the newspapers, for instance, when a group of men got suspended sentence for a gruesome rape of a minor. There are hardly any mitigating factors that would cause well-thinking persons in our society to accept and embrace any sentence that would shock the conscience of society.
The circumstances of the offence as well as the impact on the victim are also relevant considerations by the court. In situations where the peace and tranquility of a home are disturbed by a burglar who, having gained entry, proceeded to injure his victim in a vicious way and left scars that might disfigure the victim, the court would be slow to give any meaningful reduction in such circumstances. The good old adage that a man's home is his castle is an important consideration for the court.
The court will also look at the factors touching and concerning the defendant; when and how the plea was given; whether the defendant has outstanding charges before the court or has previous convictions; and other factors or principles relevant to the court. These are important factors for consideration by the court because sometimes crimes are committed by young persons who may have been influenced by someone or influenced by drugs, As such, a course of treatment or counselling might save such a convicted person from prison. Prisons sometimes will not help much with rehabilitation as they are widely perceived as emblems of punishment and shame.
It is critically important to note the role of the Court of Appeal in the process, which is a review of the prescribed minimum sentence for a person serving a term of imprisonment. The process commences by way of an application to a judge of the Court of Appeal for a review of the sentence on the grounds that it was manifestly excessive and unjust.
From all indication, the Government has done its part by enacting these pieces of legislations. It is now for the court and the attorneys-at-law at the criminal bar to get things moving.