Often when there is a high profile case of murder or assault you will see a bunch of people shouting abuse or banging on the side of the vehicle which is taking the accused or convicted miscreant back to remand or to prison. In recent years, a case in Canberra cause outrage because the man, who sexually assaulted a three-year old girl in a public library, was ‘only’ sentenced to 7.5 years imprisonment, with a non-parole period of 4.5 years1.
An online petition, started by a local group, attracted thousands of signatures. How this affected the decision of the ACT Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to appeal the sentence is unknown, but I suspect that it did not have much of an effect. The DPP has enormous experience in dealing with such cases and they have a better idea of what is likely to be a ‘just’ punishment. The DPP lodged an appeal against the sentence imposed on the grounds “that the sentence is manifestly inadequate”1.
When arrested, the perpetrator admitted his guilt, and in court, pleaded guilty to the offence. His childhood was one of neglect, physical abuse and sexual abuse. I cannot imagine what that would do to your mental health. While this does not make it easier for the young girl or her parents, it may go some way to explaining why the perpetrator is as he is1.
Of course, governments, seemingly under pressure from people whining about the inadequacy of sentences in a case affecting them, often pass legislation which imposes mandatory sentences for particular crimes. They tend to do this particularly if they are languishing in the opinion polls. It is the standard ‘law and order’ attempt to boost their popularity. I recent years this has been augmented by ‘border protection’ and ‘terrorism’, which are wheeled out at every opportunity.
Imposing mandatory sentences, although popular, goes against the standard practice of the criminal code, which only imposes maximum sentences, leaving any mitigating circumstances to be considered by the judge. In addition, there is little evidence that mandatory sentences do anything to decrease crime. While it seems to do so in some jurisdictions, it clearly doesn’t in others2,3. However, this sort of legislation has had some horrific effects. In the US, the ‘three strikes and you’re out’ laws, have led to the imprisonment for 25 years, of a person caught stealing a pair of socks worth $2.504, solely because it was his third offence.
It is clear that many of the people who whine about inadequate sentencing are not familiar with the facts of the case. They are simply suffering ignorant outrage, yet they seem to know what is required more than any highly trained, experienced judge, despite the judge being the person who is most familiar with and understands all the evidence presented. When it gets down to passing a just decision on the perpetrator, I’d put much more faith in professional judges and the DPP than the bogans shouting abuse at, and hammering on the side of the prison vehicle.
What these bogans want is not justice, it is revenge. If we allow that, we are doomed.