DPP v Daniels: some offences are so grave that even strong mitigating factors are devalued to zero

mitigateWhere a sentence is proportionate to the seriousness of the offence and to the circumstances of the offender, the existence of mitigating circumstances will not infer that in the imposition of a maximum sentence there is an element of preventative detention.

Background

Daniels was 18 years old when he attempted to murder a 10 year old girl by strangulation with a lace. The child escaped by pretending to be dead. Daniels admitted in custody that he intended to kill the girl, “to see what it would be like to kill somebody”. At trial, he pleaded guilty to attempted murder. Despite his guilty plea, his age and the fact that it was his first offence, Carney J sentenced him to the maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Daniels appealed the severity of the sentence to the Court of Criminal Appeal (CCA) on grounds that his circumstances mitigated against a maximum sentence. That, along with comments by Carney J during sentencing regarding protection of the community, inferred that the sentence contained an element of preventative detention. Hardiman J, in the CCA, held that the extreme depravity of the offence justified the life sentence.

However, the CCA certified an appeal to the Supreme Court on points of law of exceptional public importance. There were two questions: Is it lawful to impose a maximum sentence where there are significant mitigating circumstances? And did the sentence imposed contain an element of preventative detention?

Dunne J, writing for the Court, stated that it was properly conceded that the correct answer to the first question was yes. Therefore the only issue for determination was the second question.

Law

In The People (Attorney General) v O’Callaghan, Walsh J stated that it is “contrary to the concept of personal liberty enshrined in the Constitution that any person should be punished in respect of any matter upon which he has not been convicted or that in any circumstances he should be deprived of his liberty upon only the belief that he will commit offences if left at liberty”. That was a bail application case; however, the Courts have extended that principle to the application of sentencing, see The People (DPP) v Carmody.

S 29(2) of the Criminal Justice Act 1999 allows the courts to to pass a maximum sentence notwithstanding a guilty plea.

In The People (DPP) v MS, Denham J outlined the complexity of sentencing and the many issues which a judge can factor in: retribution, deterrence, protection, reparation and rehabilitation.

Decision

In the CCA (unreported), Hardiman J stated that there are some offences so grave that “even strong mitigating factors, are devalued to zero, and this is such a case”.

Dunne J (here) answered no to the question posed, stating that she was satisfied that the sentence imposed was appropriate given “the very grave circumstances of the offence committed”, and the sentence did not therefore contain any element of preventative sentencing.

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  1. 2014 Review: November | scoirl

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