Earlier this year, we covered the case of the delightful Yasmin Thomas.
In August 2014, Ms Thomas, aged 21, pleaded guilty to ABH after glassing a man in a nightclub after a disagreement over an e-cigarette. She received a 12 month custodial sentence, suspended for 2 years with 80 hours of unpaid work. She was also required to pay £1,000 in compensation to the victim along with a £100 victim surcharge.
More details can be found here (and they are well worth a read, particularly the fact that at the tender age of 21, she had a string of convictions (EIGHTEEN) for violent offences).
So, on that occasion (and presumably numerous others preceding that) she was given another chance, as the sentence could easily have been one of immediate custody.
On 9 December 2014, she was sentenced for breaching the suspended sentence. The Mail reported that she was before the court for three breaches committed within a period of two months. It is understood that these were failures relating to the supervision element of her suspended sentence, which requires her to meet with her supervising officer.
Tom Evans, defending, said Thomas’s mother had suffered a stroke on one of the days when a breach occurred, and that she was afraid she might have cancer.
Thomas reportedly accepted that her behaviour had been unacceptable, though it is unclear whether any reason or excuse was given for the other two breaches.
In this circumstance, the court has a number of options:
1) activate the suspended sentence in part or in full
2) impose a fine of up to £2,500
3) extended the operational period of the suspended sentence (the period for which the sentence is suspended, in this case, originally 12 months)
4) impose more onerous community requirements or extended the supervision period (the period during which the defendant has to comply with certain requirements).
The court must deal with an offender by one of those methods.
Judge Harrow told her at Bournemouth Crown Court: ‘Those guilty of a breach are almost all given one chance. I hope you understand that you had been given a chance.’
He warned her that she would be imprisoned if she committed another breach: ‘If you don’t comply with all conditions to the letter you are going to go through that door at the back.’
Regrettably, we do not know how she was sentenced, save that we know the judge did not ‘activate’ the suspended sentence so as to send Thomas to custody. The result is that he must have either imposed a fine, extended the supervision/operational period of the sentence or added more onerous community requirements.
If I was to have a guess, I would say it was likely that Thomas was given a few more hours of unpaid work – this signals that orders cannot be breached with impunity but that with breaches as minor as missing a couple of appointments (assuming that all other aspects of her sentence are being complied with and her supervising officer is generally content with her progress) there is no point activating the sentence.
There is a danger that when imposing a suspended sentence, courts set defendants up to fail; if they live chaotic lifestyles or have addiction problems or mental health issues, it may be likely that breaches will occur and result in the sentence being activated. However at the same time, courts need to ensure that orders of the court are obeyed, and that means punishing people when they are not.
In this case, I think the balance has been correctly achieved (notwithstanding that I would have sent her to prison for the original offence).