22 Oct 2019

Overhauled meth sentencing guidelines recognise woman's limited role in offending

10:45 am on 22 October 2019

A lawyer whose client has had her meth dealing sentence appealed says the punishment now reflects the crime.

Prison jail cells bars incarceration generic

Photo: Unsplash / Matthew Ansley

A Court of Appeal judgment announced yesterday means judges must consider if an offender's background or meth addiction has fuelled their offending.

Barrister Maria Pecotic represented her client Jonelle Rachel Phillips through the Court of Appeal judgment process.

She was initially sentenced to four years and three months in prison for supply and possession of methamphetamine.

But under the new Court of Appeal judgment, Phillips' sentence was quashed and replaced with three years and two months' imprisonment.

Ms Pecotic said her client received the maximum discount of 30 percent off her sentence because of the personal factors around her crimes, but also her dedication to rehabilitation.

"The Court of Appeal decision recognised the fact that she was not a main player in the offending, that she was in love with the person that she offended with, and that she also had a severe drug addiction brought about by a very traumatic event in her life," she said.

The individual appeal decision said Phillips assisted in an operation essentially conducted by her partner - meaning she had a limited role in the supply of methamphetamine.

After applying the new guidelines to her personal mitigating factors, she was given a three-month discount for remorse and a six-month discount for time spent on restrictive bail conditions.

A 30 percent discount was also given to reflect her mental health and addition issues were causative of her offending and that her personal circumstances would render a sentence of imprisonment more severe than for another offender and her progress to rehabilitation.

And a 15 percent guilty plea discount was held from the previous sentence.

But Ms Pecotic said the changes were not a softer touch on meth dealing.

"It's still going to punish those people who are in it purely for commercial gain and ignore the human suffering that goes on."

She said addicts who were dealing were doing so with the intention of getting their next hit, rather than thinking about the consequences.

"Sure there needs to be denunciation, which is punishment and deterrence to stop somebody doing it again, and to stop other people in a similar situation.

"But when you're an addict, you don't stand there and go 'I might go to jail for this'."

Ms Pecotic said she thought the decision from the court was an admission there was something wrong with the justice system.

"It's refreshing to actually see the courts say people are going to jail for longer and longer periods of time, and we have all of these addicts in jail who come out and re-offend.

"Something is broken in our criminal justice system and we need to fix it".

James Rapley QC, who led the submissions for the Law Society and Bar Association, said in the past relevant information simply wasn't being applied when people were being sentenced for drug crimes.

"It was focusing solely on the quantity of drug involved and quantity shouldn't be used as a proxy for culpability," he said. "So now the Court of Appeal relooked at it and said quantity is still important, but other factors such as the role of the offender, commercially, links to organised crime, gangs, should also be factored into the equation of culpability."