Judge says offenders are wasting suspended sentence chances

Great effort goes into rehabilitating peoplegiven opportunities, court hears

It was entirely understandable how the public was becoming cynical about judges handing out suspended sentences given the frequency with which offenders were failing to avail of the chances being given to them by the courts, a judge has said.

Judge Gerard O’Brien said that those who fail to take their chances when offered them by the courts were in danger of rendering suspended sentences “utterly meaningless” with consequences for how the public at large view the criminal justice system.

"The amount of resources being put in the attempts to rehabilitate persons who have been given chances by various courts on suspended sentences is becoming increasingly alarming," Judge O'Brien told Cork Circuit Criminal Court sitting at the Anglesea Street Courthouse in Cork.

Sword of Damocles

‘The fact accused persons simply ignore the fact the Sword of Damocles is hanging over them and head off into the wild blue yonder after leaving prison and ignore what they promised to do when they were granted a suspended sentence, is making suspended sentences utterly meaningless.”

Judge O'Brien said that "the public, quite rightly, are becoming more and more cynical about the use of suspended sentences" as he went on to deal with an application by the State to have a suspended sentence on Shane Green (27) lifted after he failed to meet the Probation Service.

Green of the Bungalow, Kilcully, Co Cork was sentenced to five years imprisonment with the final two years suspended in July 2014 after he pleaded guilty to falsely imprisoning and assaulting his girlfriend, Amy Deedy, causing her harm on January 24th, 2014.

Green and Ms Deedy had been dating for a short time but he attacked her one night without provocation, hitting her in the face with his fist before trying to strangle her. He also attacked another woman who came to Ms Deedy’s assistance.

Green had been taking bodybuilding steroids and on the night in question took drink and drugs but he apologised in court to Ms Deedy. “I just want to apologise for what I did – I wasn’t right in my head at the time, I was heavily caught up in addiction at the time – I am truly sorry,” he said.

But Judge O'Brien was told that despite being given a chance by his colleague Judge Sean O Donnabhain when he suspended the final two years of his five year term and initially engaging with the Probation Service, Green had failed to keep three appointments with the service.

He noted that as well as missing appointments with the Probation Service on January 17th, January 29th and February 5th, 2018, Green had also been charged with another offence and such behaviour was simply not acceptable when he had been given a chance by the courts.

Addiction issues

“Why did he have another offence when he is on a suspended sentence? He is not dealing with the issues. The best way to have an appropriate and stable relationship with a partner and possibly children is to not engage in taking drugs and (it is) to deal with addiction issues.”

Judge O'Brien said he was "very reluctantly" granting an application by Green's barrister, Ray Boland BL, to give his client one more chance to engage with the Probation Service but he warned that he will face the lifting of the two year suspended part of the sentence if he fails to avail of the chance.

“If he does not engage, he will go back into prison and he will serve the full term. If there isn’t immediate and appropriate engagement, he serves it all,” said Judge O’Brien before turning directly to Green in the dock and issuing him a stern warning.

“Do you understand that? You are too old to be berated by a judge in court. This is not appropriate. You are too old for this. Normally people grow out of bad behaviour. You need to smell the coffee,” he said as he adjourned the matter until November.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times