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January 10, 2008

Concerns down under about extreme plea discounts

As detailed in this new article from Australia, a review of sentencing breaks for pleading guilty is underway down under.  Here are details:

Community outrage over criminals getting lighter sentences for eleventh-hour guilty pleas to lesser charges has prompted a review of NSW guidelines. Attorney-General John Hatzistergos has asked the NSW Sentencing Council to review plea bargaining and a number of other issues relating to how reductions in sentences are determined.

"While reduced sentences for guilty pleas have a part to play in the justice system, it is important they are applied consistently and in accordance with clear principles," Mr Hatzistergos said in a statement today. "This review is in response to police and community expectations and concerns for greater accountability regarding sentence discounts."

Anger over sentence discounting reached boiling point last month when John Taufahema was sentenced to a minimum seven years jail over the 2002 shooting of Senior Constable Glenn McEnallay. Police and Senior Constable McEnallay's family argued Taufahema was essentially rewarded for pleading guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter to save his own neck....

The NSW Sentencing Council is chaired by Justice James Wood and includes representatives from victims groups and the wider community.

This story is telling against the backdrop of debates over these issues in the US.  Though plea discounts sometimes become an issue of controversy here, a related problem is the extreme sentences some offenders will receive principally as a result of exercising their constitutional right to a jury trial.  Nevertheless, despite lots of high-profile examples of extreme "trial penalties" (e.g., the sentences imposed on Jeff Skilling and the border agents), to my knowledge no government review is afoot to assess whether some defendants are being punished to harshly simply for contesting evidence at a trial.

January 10, 2008 at 05:30 AM | Permalink

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