New laws have passed the houses of parliament, to be gazetted by the end of the year. In an article on the ABC politicians were on hand to talk up the “tough new laws” which will see serious sexual or physical assaults during a burglary on a dwelling carry a minimum mandatory term of 75% of the maximum sentence. This would see rape during a home invasion carry a minimum 15 years imprisonment (maximum 20 year penalty) and those that commit an assault during such a burglary receiving a minimum 7 and a half years jail (maximum is 10 years imprisonment).
Police Minister, Liza Harvey, rightly gave the usual snake oil promises of “we’ll need to measure this over a few years” and the “hope” for a drop in the rate of related crime. Of course, the fact that studies have shown a rather tenuous links between mandatory sentencing and an actual drop in crime question the effectiveness of such measures. What it does do, as with any mandatory penalty, is leave no discretion to the judiciary which is precisely what their job is.
WA’s Attorney-General, Michael Mischin, has then chimed in to provide the ignorance that A-G’s seem to make famous by not being “aware of any instance where anyone has been jailed for aggravated sexual assault taking place in a home that is anywhere near half” the maximum of 20 years. Of course a 5 minute search of the Supreme Court of Appeal lists a number of cases. To demonstrate this is not a recent fad I’ll list a number of cases over the years:
- McKenzie (2015) was for assault and burglary, he received 12 years imprisonment,
- Ugle in 2012 getting 11 years (he was only 18 years of age),
- Ugle (2007) received 11 years 4 months (even though there were no aggravating circumstances),
- Cooper (2009) received 12 years imprisonment (even though he had no record of violent or sexual offending), and
- Royer (2009) received 16 years imprisonment (again, no prior violent or sexual offences).
All these highlighted cases received more than half of the maximum and two received more than the 75% minimum now being mandated (7.5 years for McKenzie, 15 years for Royer). All these cases had their sentences affirmed on appeal. I’m sure there are plenty more examples demonstrating the incorrect statement of our Attorney-General.
Are there cases below the minimum being touted? Yes, of course there are, because we expect the judiciary to place the appropriate penalty. Setting an arbitrary minimum does nothing except win politicians brownie points. There has been no study suggesting that the “75%” minimum will do anything, and everything points to it being arbitrarily imposed by someone who has plucked a number out of the air. Our jails are already overcrowded; this will just mean more taxpayer dollars funding prisoners instead of ways to implement diversionary tactics to stop it happening in the first place.
Do I know the solution to stop such crimes? No. But sadly, mandatory sentencing isn’t it.