Introduction and Factual Background
Legal highs have been in the news recently because of the harm that they can do (although the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 is not without controversy). Whatever the exact impact on your health, they can certainly make you in a way you otherwise wouldn’t, as Alice Coyne, a 19 year old Cornish woman, found out earlier this year.
After a Spice (and possibly alcohol fuelled) session, Ms Coyne (described as a vulnerable young woman with alcohol and drug issues) relaxed on a park bench in Truro, pulled down her leggings, and started to masturbate.
In this day and age people reacted the only way they can – taking videos of it and posting it on social media, where it was ‘shared tens of thousands of times‘.
Ms Coyne was presumably arrested that night and later charged with exposure, to which she pleaded guilty.
On 4th May 2016 she was sentenced to a 12 month Community Order
The offence with which Ms Coyle was charged was exposure contrary to s66 Sexual Offences Act 2003.
This is committed if somebody :
(a) they intentionally exposes his genitals, and
(b) they intends that someone will see them and be caused alarm or distress.
Although Ms Coyle clearly intentionally exposed herself, the second part is slightly less clear – was she too ‘out of it’ to intend anything? And if not, was she really intending to cause others ‘alarm and distress’?
But, she pleaded guilty with legal advice, so she presumably answered ‘no’ and ‘yes’ to the above two questions.
The maximum sentence is 2 years, and the starting point would be the Sexual Offences Definitive Guidelines (page 129). On the face of it is Raised Harm (because of the masturbation) but not raised culpability, making it a Category 2 offences.
This gives a starting point of a Community Order, with a range of up to 6 months imprisonment.
Although Ms Coyle has previous for theft and criminal damage, there was a guilty plea and so on the guidelines the sentence was very much within the range of what is to be expected.
Sex Offenders Register
What isn’t mentioned in the Metro is that as a result of the sentence, Ms Coyle will be subject to the provision of the Sex Offenders Register for the next 5 years.
This wasn’t imposed by the magistrates – it is an automatic consequence of the conviction and sentence (as her sentence was a Community Order of at least 12 months).
On the face of it, Ms Coyle does not present a threat to the public or is at risk of committing a sexual offence. Further it is hard to see that this offence would be seen as a ‘proper’ sexual offence in that there is no real sexual intent behind it.
This does show the inflexibility of the law and gives an example of the inflexibility of the law.
An issue seemingly not dealt with surrounds those who recorded and shared the video of Ms Coyle masturbating. Is it not arguable that those individuals have committed an offence under the Communications Act 2003 s.127? Have they not sent “…by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character”?
The trend for recording and sharing instances of illegal activity can be helpful to the police in providing evidence of criminal offences, but the notion of public journalism comes with a risk, particularly if you are recording something indecent or obscene. You have been warned…!