Cocaine dealer spared prison because it would “expose him to criminals”

    Cocaine dealer spared prison because it would “expose him to criminals”

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    Image from Gazette Live

    On 5 June 2015, the Mirror covered the story of Simon Beveridge, 27.

    Beveridge admitted possession of cocaine with intent to supply. It seems that he, being a user of cannabis, had run up a drug debt. Finding himself unable to pay the debt, he was given “some white powder” and a mobile phone and told him that dealing for them would erase his debt. He did so, but unfortunately for him was visited by the police and was visibly shaking. When asked by the police if he was in possession of any drugs, “he went to a black jacket and produced a package of 7.7g of cocaine in 15 bags, worth £310”.

    Sentence

    In mitigation, his representative said: “

    “He’s extremely remorseful and through me he expresses his apologies and regret for this. He’s a long-term user of cannabis. He’s got himself well out of his depth here. He’s clearly never been to custody before. He’s a vulnerable young man. I can tell you he’s absolutely terrified at the thought of going to custody.”

    The judge asked for Beveridge to stand in the witness box and speak to him – in a somewhat unusual move. The judge asked Beveridge why he was selling cocaine; he replied with the account set out above.

    The judge said: “In the normal course there is no doubt that people who sell Class A drugs go to prison…Drugs are a scourge. They are corrupting, they are addictive and people who prey on the weaknesses of others should expect immediate custodial sentences…Of course his debt problems are entirely his own fault, nonetheless it seems to me there was a degree of pressure there…I’m satisfied he told me the truth. That was, in my judgment, breathtakingly frank.”

    He imposed a suspended sentence of 2 years imprisonment, suspended for 2 years with 120 hours of unpaid work and a supervision order.

    The judge said he had asked himself what the best course of action was, concluding that a non-custodial sentence was in the best interests of Beveridge and “much more importantly” those of the community. The justification was that Beveridge’s naivety would attract the attention of “streetwise criminals” in prison and that exposing Beveridge to that was not the best course of action.

    Comment

    This is a breath of fresh air. In this case a custodial sentence was plainly warranted. The judge appears to have applied the legislation correctly: firstly, consider the appropriate length of sentence, and then (and only then) consider whether it should be suspended. Therefore, a custodial sentence hangs over him and should he slip up, he’ll be back before the court and most likely be sent to prison.

    As for the justification, no doubt some readers will consider this to be wishy washy liberal nonsense; I happen to consider it to be a very sensible decision, and a brave one at that, knowing that the press would leap on the story and make a bit of a song and dance about it.

    Recognising that Beveridge is not a serious drug dealer and was doing so only to pay off  drug debt, it is by far and away in everyone’s interest to rid him of his drug habit and steer him away from a life of crime, something which would have been more difficult had he been sent to custody (as he could not work, earn money, support any family/dependants etc.).

    We’d be interested to hear your views in the comments below…

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    Lyndon is the General Editor of Current Sentencing Practice and the Criminal Appeal Reports (Sentencing)

    4 COMMENTS

    1. Refreshing sense of perspective shown by the judge there. I don’t know if I would go so far as to call it creative thinking but it is certainly thinking outside the box. With custody space and re-offending rates for short sentences as they are, some more decisions taken in this spirit can only be a positive.

    2. I agree. I had a similar case where client was young, naive and a ‘custodian’ of 13k’s worth of heroin. He was given a community order.

      It’s unlikely that the supervision element, alone, will properly address this cannabis dependency. Hopefully the experience will be enough to stop him offending, but agree that he deserved a chance.

    3. I applaud the judge … the problem is that this is where the system will fail … his supervision from probation service will likely be minimal, farmed out to a commercial run entity who’s only real concern is to do the job as cheaply as possible. They will therefore be happy he attends for 30 second every 1/2/4 weeks and sign to say he was there. There will be no real monitoring, no support, no guidance and so he is likely to remain in a vulnerable position where he will repeat the offending behaviour. There is also likely to be minimal support for him to address his drug habit.

      Of course I might be wrong…

    4. A good decision in my opinion.

      Sounds not a hundred miles away from the situation in R v Alfonso [2004] EWCA Crim 2342 where court said A was less culpable because he was financing his own drug habit.

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