The last number of months has seen the media filled with a number of high profile criminal cases which has in turn generated a great deal of media attention and public discussion about the court’s effectiveness in dealing with criminals.
In criminal matters the court has two essential tasks. The first is concluding whether or not the defendant is guilty. If he or she is so found to be, the second task is to decide what sentence is appropriate in all of the circumstances.
It often appears as though the court’s second task, the exercise of sentencing discretion, is the one that draws the most public attention. With that in mind, it is useful to look at exactly what courts are entitled to consider when embarking upon a sentencing exercise.
The starting point comes from section 3A of the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999. That section guides the court by setting out the purposes for which a court may impose a sentence on an offender. They are:
- to ensure the offender is adequately punished;
- to prevent crime by deterring the offender and other persons from committing similar offences;
- to protect the community from the offender;
- to promote the rehabilitation of the offender;
- to make the offender accountable for his actions;
- to denounce the conduct of the offender; and
- to recognize the harm done to the victim of the crime and the community.
In applying the purposes above, section 21A of the Act says that the court is to take into account the aggravating and mitigating circumstances of the offence, and any other objective or subjective factors that affect the relative seriousness of the offence.
The sort of things that aggravate an offence include the offender’s record for similar offences, the level of planning that went into the offence, the harm caused by the offence, the vulnerability of the victim and the offender’s personal benefit arising from the offence.
The sort of things that tends to mitigate an offence include provocation or duress of the offender, the offender’s good character, the offender’s prospects of rehabilitation and the remorse shown by the offender.
In most circumstances, the court is also bound to take into account an offender’s early plea of guilty as a demonstration that the offender has accepted responsibility for the crime.
If you have questions about a criminal matter, please don’t hesitate to contact Everingham Solomons, because Helping You is Our Business.
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