You Be The Judge
Sentencing in the Magistrates Court

The following exercise can be used with classes in considering some of the issues that surround sentencing. It is best as a group activity.
 
Students should read the attached information and present arguments as to their decision.
 

Prosecution Facts:

John is 23 and is charged with obtaining money by false pretences. John is a heroin addict who is living in a house with a number of other drug users. He stole a Driver’s Licence renewal form from Brian, another occupant of the house and used it to obtain a Driver’s Licence in Brian’s name but with his own photo on it. Using the Driver’s Licence he accessed Brian’s bank account (claiming he had lost his credit card and wanted a new one). Using the credit card John withdrew $3 600 from Brian’s bank account.
 
He used the money to buy drugs. When questioned by Police he refused to cooperate.
 
The bank is seeking compensation from John to pay back the money.
 
John initially denied committing the offence. Once shown the fake licence application he made he owns up and tells all.
 
Until two years ago he had no criminal convictions. In the past two years however, he has had three convictions for using or possessing heroin and two convictions for minor offences of larceny to obtain money for drugs. He also has numerous traffic convictions that could be drug related. 
 
What sentence would you impose and why? [Options include Imprisonment to 2 years, a suspended sentence, a partly suspended sentence, a bond with conditions, a fine, compensation, community service.]
 

Defence Case:

John is pleading guilty (admitting to the crime). Although he lied to Police he did so because he was scared. By the end of his interview he had owned up fully and admits to doing all the things the Police allege.
 
He did it because Brian had sold John’s car to get money for heroin and John was trying to get revenge as well as get his money back. John didn’t realise the bank would be the loser thinking it would be Brian instead.
 
John says he is remorseful (sorry) and will pay back the money to the bank but needs a long time to do this.
 
He has not committed any further offences and although still heroin dependant, has a “straight” girlfriend who is employed and prepared to support him. They live at her parent’s home.
 
His girlfriend and her parents new John before he was on drugs and have written a supporting letter saying he was of good character and a good worker before involvement with drugs. They are prepared to support him emotionally and financially if he is prepared to “beat” the habit.
 
John is keen to get on a drug program but is concerned he may not complete it. He needs some incentives and support if he is to succeed.
 
He has been unemployed for two years but before that had skilled employment as a stage hand and sound technician. John is confident he can gain employment in this industry once he is “clean”.
 
What would your sentence now be?
 
If you have changed it, why?
 
If you haven’t changed it, why not? 
 
 

Glossary of useful terms

False pretences  - dishonesty
 
Compensation  - usually an amount of money designed to cover the loss the person has suffered
 
Conviction   - decision by the court that results in a criminal record
 
Larceny   - another term for stealing or theft
 
Suspended Sentence - penalty that involves the offender making some sort of a promise to not commit other crimes for a period of time or risk going to gaol for the duration of the sentence.
 
Bond - similar to a promise to do certain things
 
 
 
 
 
This program for schools has been developed through a partnership between the Department for Education and Child Development (DECD) Outreach Education and the Adelaide Magistrates Court. Outreach Education is a team of seconded teachers based in public organisations.
 
South Australian Law Courts Education Program