21yr old woman given another chance after breaching suspended sentence for glass...

21yr old woman given another chance after breaching suspended sentence for glass attack

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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.

Breach

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.

Options

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.

Sentence

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.

Comment

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).

2 COMMENTS

    • I repeat the comment I posted in the earlier thread on this case. Not all is relevant to Duncan’s remark, but it sets the context in which his query should be considered.

      “As is made clear in The Mail article, Ms Thomas’s case was dealt with not by “a magistrate”, but rather by a judge in the Crown Court (because, one may safely assume, the Magistrates’ Court found – after hearing submissions from the Prosecution and the Defence – that the offence was so serious that their sentencing powers were insufficient). No District Judge (Magistrates’ Court) or bench of lay justices can impose a custodial sentence of longer than 6 months for a single offence or 12 months for two unrelated offences, so no mere magistrate decided on this sentence, but rather a Crown Court judge of one sort or another.

      One of the advantages of the Crown Court judiciary is that they can expect a detailed written analysis from Probation. If she had indicated a guilty plea at the earliest opportunity, there will have been plenty of time for Probation to prepare a report (it’s interesting to note that the magistrates’ court didn’t remand her in custody pre-sentence, and that may give an indication of sorts that they too did not rule out a suspended sentence on the facts as presented).

      All too often, magistrates have to rely on a brief oral report after putting the case back (a “stand-down report”). In this case, the bench in the lower court will have looked at the facts put to them (including in all likelihood other facts than those reported) and will I’m sure have noted that there had been no offending between 2010 (when she was 17) and 2014, aged 21, so all her previous convictions had been as a youth. They will undoubtedly have wanted Probation to look at what triggers (drugs/alcohol/abuse or other) had caused this sudden recrudescence of violence, and have been very mindful indeed of the greater powers of the Crown Court to make orders with a mental health component (possibly part of the supervision requirement eventually imposed).

      They will have wanted too to give the eventual sentencer the greatest possible margin to impose a sentence that would enable whichever providers were tasked with helping Ms Thomas address her offending behaviours in a meaningful manner enough time and opportunity to put in place a package that might hopefully get behind whatever it was (which the judge in the Crown Court very considerately spared her from having splashed across the pages of The Mail and on the Internet) that had marked her past up to the age of 17 to such an extent that she had become a prolific violent offender. That doesn’t usually come out of the blue.

      I am actually rather pleased that instead of simply incarcerating this clearly very disturbed young woman, a way was found to divert her from custody and seek to break the cycle of violence that had characterised her youth. That was undoubtedly a more productive route than three or four months behind bars (the reality of a 12 month sentence), during which there would have been no opportunity to seek psychiatric input or enable her to see through a course of CAT (cognitive analytical therapy). Likewise, the judge appears to have exercised an entirely appropriate degree of discretion as regards the decision not to activate the suspended sentence in whole or in part in the face of very minor breaches of her court order, but entirely right to warn her that she had maxed out her “Get Out Of Gaol” card.

      To those who argue that a man would undoubtedly have been banged up without a second thought for a similar offence, I would say they are right to question whether custody is really the best way to break such cycles of reoffending (in men or women), and urge them to look at the work of the Bradley Commission.

      Prisons don’t tend to make good hospitals (& nor can hospitals always provide a place of safety for those who may pose a risk to themselves or others), and there are many prisoners who should be in the care of mental health professionals than of prison officers.

      But it cuts no ice with me to say that just because a man would in all likelihood have been sent straight into custody in similar circumstances, then we should also enact legislation to ensure that no-one, whether man or woman, can “get off” with a suspended sentence. That way true legislative madness lies.”

      The answer to Duncan’s query may well be in the affirmative, but if it were, it wouldn’t invalidate the sentence in this instance (nor indeed validate a differential response to the sentencing of men and women). What a closer analysis of this case shows – as with any other case that comes to sentence – is that one has to look at the whole picture, and every case is different.

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