Sunday, March 12, 2006

Crime & Punishment

The recent spate of gang-related shootings has sparked a heated political and media debate about the length of sentences served by those who commit serious crime such as murder. The do-gooders are quick to point out that harsher sentences have little or no deterrent effect on criminals. The point they seem to miss is that prevention rather than deterrence is the objective - the longer they're locked up, the less opportunity they have to commit crime.

What really pisses off Joe Public is where someone commits a serious crime while out on bail or on early release from an earlier prison sentence.

Here's a recent case that will undoubtedly have Joe Duffy's phones ringing:

On Friday 10th March 2006, Ian Horgan was sentenced to 8 years in jail for raping and killing Rachel Kiely. Though charged with rape and murder, he had pleaded guilty to manslaughter and not guilty to the rape charge. The jury found him not guilty of murder but guilty of rape and manslaughter.

Horgan had originally been convicted of rape and muder in June 2002, but the conviction had been overturned in December 2004 by the Court of Criminal Appeal who ordered a retrial. Horgan was released on bail pending the retrial.

Having been convicted at the retrial, Mr Justice Barry White sentenced Horgan to 8 years in jail on each count, with the sentences to run concurrently. He acknowledged that Horgan had already spent 4.5 years in custody since November 2000 and said that this was the equivalent of a six-year sentence. Consequently, the judge suspended the last 6 years of the 8-year concurrent sentences he was now imposing. This means that Horgan now has less than 2 years to serve in jail.

This calculation of 4.5 years served being equivalent to a 6-year sentence assumes that the prisoner had earned remission, commonly termed “time off for good behaviour”. However, before passing sentence the judge was made aware that Horgan had been convicted of burglary, assault and possession of stolen property in 2005, while he was out on bail pending his retrial for rape and murder.

If that constitutes “good behaviour”, meriting a calculation of remission on time already served, then the law really is an ass and I’m a chinaman (if you’re allowed use that expression in these politically correct times).

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