The case of Duane Ballin has caused some scratching of heads (as well as some annoyance) after he was ‘jailed for 15 years’ (more on that one later) on 26th March 2018.
The confusion has come from the fact that Mr Ballin had savagely attacked his partner, Tara Newbold, before going to the police and saying that “I think I’ve killed my girlfriend”. Police duly attended his address and found that Ms Newbold had sadly died, displaying ‘at least 37 visible injuries’. A clear case of murder if ever there was?
Why wasn’t it murder?
The answer to that is pretty simple – for it to be murder you have to cause the death of the other person (there’s obviously more to it than that, but that’s a prerequisite).
In this case, as is standard and would happen in all cases of suspicious deaths for obvious reasons, there was an autopsy. This showed that there was a quantity of cocaine and the pathologist concluded that the most likely cause of death was cocaine toxicity.
And so on that basis Mr Ballin could not be charged with murder. Although it feels strange, it makes sense. Take a slightly more rarefied case of a doctor who gives a patient who is close to death a shot of potassium chloride to stop her heart. In those circumstances the charge may well be attempted murder as it is often very hard to prove the causal link. Whether or not you may think that Mr Ballin was fortunate (as some would say) is by the by.
Mr Ballin could obviously be charged with the offence of GBH (presumably as there was not sufficient evidence to say that he was intending to kill Ms Newbold).
Given the horrific injuries this was always going to be a hard sell, and it seems that the jury were not taken in, finding him guilty in February of this year.
The starting point is the Guidelines (page 5). It is clearly greater harm on all three grounds set out there. The culpability is always a bit more complicated, but here there is deliberate targeting of a vulnerable victim and use of a weapon at least (and there may be some more).
This makes it a Category 1 case with a starting point of 12 years and a range of 9-16 years. Here, the Judge seems to have taken a sentence at the top of the range which, in the circumstances, is not surprising and cannot be criticised. On what we have seen in the papers the sentence length is unlikely to be appealed.
But Mr Ballin was judged to be ‘dangerous’ (see here for an explanation) and received a three year licence extension.
The real consequence is that instead of being released after serving half the 15 years (7.5 years), Mr Ballin will only be released after the Parole Board has determined that it is safe for him to be released, and he can only apply for release after he has served 2/3 (10 years).
The consequences of extended sentences are something that often causes confusion in the press, so well done to the Guardian for getting it spot on on this occasion (at least once you look past the headline).