Sentence for single assault found excessive due to youth of offender

A young woman has had her sentence for a single count of assault contrary to s.3 of the Non Fatal Offences Against the Person Act reduced, with the Court of Appeal finding that insufficient attention was given to the young age of the woman at the time of the offence.

The offence, to which the woman - referred to as S.W. - pled guilty, took place in a public house in Navan at the conclusion of an eighteenth birthday party in January 2013.

S.W. had been surrounded by a group of young people and been falsely accused of theft.

The victim of the crime was a young woman with an eleven month old child. The assault involved her being hit by a glass, causing severe damage to her left eye and resulting in a number of operations.

The original sentence was three and a half years imprisonment with the final twelve months suspended provided that S.W. be of good behaviour for the period of time and stayed away from the injured party indefinitely.

However, it was noted on appeal that the trial judge had sentenced S.W. on the basis of a version of events least favourable to S.W., in which she struck the victim with a glass that was in her hand, rather than struck the victim by throwing the glass at her or in her direction.

It was submitted that this was an error, as S.W. had submitted her guilty plea on the basis of recklessness, which had been accepted by the court. The appeal court accepted this and proceeded on the basis that S.W. had been reckless.

The crux of the appeal was that the sentence had been disproportionate, particularly as the judge had failed to have sufficient regard for the young age of S.W. at the time of the appeal and at the time of the sentencing.

In contrast, the prosecution noted the use of the glass in the course of the assault and the devastating and permanent impact of the assault on the victim.

Delivering the appeal, Mr Justice Sheehan noted S.W.’s personal circumstances, noting that she had left school following completion of Junior Certificate, and had since developed a drug problem.

It was noted that she had five previous convictions, but for minor offences including theft and cannabis possession.

It was also noted that she had suffered a number of psychiatric problems.

Justice Sheehan found that while he understood the trial judge’s focus on the severity of the harm, he felt that insufficient attention had been given to the fact that S.W. was only sixteen at the time of the offence.

He found that this failure amounted to an error in principle, requiring a fresh sentence hearing.

It was submitted on behalf of S.W. that she was a model prisoner and on an enhanced regime. She had recently passed her Leaving Certificate and had undergone a number of rehabilitative programmes related to crime reduction.

Considering this process, and the young age of S.W. at the time of the offence, Justice Sheehan extended the period of suspended sentence, on the same terms as the original.

  • by Rachel Killean for Irish Legal News
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