What do you need to do to go to prison these days?...

What do you need to do to go to prison these days? 21 year old woman given suspended sentence for glass attack

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Yasmin Thomas, 21, was given a 12 month custodial sentence, suspended for 2 years with 80 hours of unpaid work after pleading guilty to assault occasioning actual bodily harm. She was also ordered to pay £1000 in compensation to the victim and a £100 victim surcharge.

What happened?

The Mail reported that “Thomas’s friend had snatched [an e-cigarette] from a friend of [the victim], and had thrown it on the floor.

Thomas then picked it up and thrust the device at [the victim], demanding: ‘Are you not going to say thank you? Who do you think you are?’

She then lunged towards [the victim] with a broken glass, causing a serious gash to his left eyelid and two smaller cuts to his face.”

The victim needed stitches on his eye socket and small shards of glass to be removed from his eye. It was feared he had also suffered a fractured eye socket and more serious damage to his sight, though fortunately this was not the case.

The Mail report states that Thomas attacked her victim with a broken glass, although it is unclear whether she a) broke the glass with the intention of striking the victim with it, b) picked up a glass that was already broken or c) had in her hand a glass that was already broken.

Mitigation

The Mail reported that her representative said “Thomas had been diagnosed with an emotionally unstable personality disorder and had struggled to manage her temper from childhood.

She said she had sought help from mental health services prior to committing this offence and was waiting to undergo cognitive analytical therapy.”

Previous record

This was Thomas’ 18th conviction for violence. It is not known whether she had previously received a custodial sentence. Her last offence was reportedly in 2010.

Judge’s comments

‘You have a breathtaking record of violence, one of the worst I have ever seen from anyone your age.

‘It is not without a lot of hesitation and some reservations, I must confess, that I’m going to suspend that 12 month sentence for two years.’

‘Any offence at all will be sent back to this court and you will go straight down those steps to prison for at least 12 months.’

Sentencing guidelines

The relevant guidelines are the Assault guidelines.

My view

I would say that injury is serious in the context of the offence – constituting a finding of ‘greater harm’ for the purposes of the guideline. Additionally, the use of the broken glass as a weapon demonstrates higher culpability and therefore this would be a category one offence with a starting point of 18 months. There are aggravating features such as the manifest previous convictions for similar offences (although we don’t know if they involved the use of a weapon) and the fact that Thomas had (presumably) consumed a great degree of alcohol. In mitigation, as the Mail report highlighted, there are some mental health issues, namely a personality disorder and the fact that she is ‘attempting to turn her life around’ and had sought help prior to committing the offence. Her age may also have provided some mitigation though in my view, it doesn’t carry much weight. After taking account of the aggravating and mitigating factors, I would have placed the sentence at 20-24 months (the previous convictions outweighing any personal mitigation).

With full credit (we assume) for a guilty plea, that would be reduced to somewhere between 13 and 16 months.

However, it is important to note that I am basing my assessment of a recital of the facts in the Mail and the judge will have had much more information and heard submissions from counsel. Therefore, I cannot say that my assessment is right and the judge’s (see below) is wrong.

The judge’s view

We dont know how the judge approached the guidelines, but we know that he settled on a sentence of 12 months, meaning that before credit for the plea, he must have arrived at a sentence of about 18 months. That is definitely within the guidelines.

The judge then decided to suspend the sentence. The Mail report gives few clues as to the reasoning behind that decision however we can assume it is on the basis of her personality disroder, anger management issues and the fact that this is likely to be her “last chance”.

Comment

The Mail reported that comments online had included: ‘So what do you actually have to do to go to prison these days?’ and ‘It’s barbaric that she has avoided jail.

Of course, if Thomas does not reoffend (because she has received help for her personality disorder and anger management issues, then this sentence is a success and the decision to suspend her sentence is the right one. If not, she will undoubtedly go to prison if she commits another similar offence of violence.

Tobias Ellwood, Conservative MP for Bournemouth East reportedly said: ‘I am particularly concerned that the judge mentioned that he suspended [Thomas’s] sentence with ‘a lot of hesitation and some reservations. He was clearly troubled by her record.’

‘This is now the third case of this nature that I have seen in Bournemouth in recent months. So I will now be seeking a meeting with the Attorney General to discuss these particular cases and to ask whether changes to the law are necessary to ensure that cases of this kind do not occur again.’

The suggestion appears to be a measure to ensure such cases cannot receive suspended sentences. Let’s hope the new AG, Jeremey Wright, is not taken in by Mr Ellwood’s stupidity.

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

6 COMMENTS

  1. A man would have gone to prison for such violence.

    Even for looking at illicit images.

    As I keep saying, the legal (justice?) system has been corrupted through and through. It is now designed to prosecute men for the most trivial of incidents, no matter how long ago, but women can get away with almost anything.

  2. I am always cautious about stories in the Daily Mail, however, the fact that by the age of 21 she already has 18 criminal convictions speaks volumes.
    Having spoken to some police officers in my area, they are practically tearing their hair out with frustration at the courts. Arresting and prosecuting someone with a criminal record as long as your arm, only for the magistrate to give the criminal a small fine or community order. There is no incentive for them to stop committing crime.

    • @Peter 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.

  3. Unbelievable ! The Mail’s question was and is a valid one. I briefly studied law as a module on my degree course many years ago. At the first lecture our tutor said words to the effect that we were studing law and that we must put common sense aside. I now understand what he mean’t.

    Can the victim not appeal the sentence ?

    Finally you show your true lefty, bleeding heart credentials (once again) in your last sentence. Why should an MP who represents the public address public concerns with the government ? Is that not democracy ? If the law or sentencing guidelines needs review then its a perfectly valid to raise it. However based on his comments and those of Peter Jones above, there clearly is an issue with the judiciary in that area.

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