A Judge had erred in not giving an appellant who pleaded guilty at the first available opportunity the maximum 1/3 reduction for his plea.
On the 19th November 2013 at the Crown Court at Southwark the appellant, who had pleaded guilty at the first available opportunity, was sentenced to three years and three months imprisonment for commercial burglary. He appealed against that sentence.
The facts of the offence were that at about 10.00pm on the 22nd August 2013 the appellant was seen in an office building by a cleaner, who become suspicious of him and called the police. The appellant had left the building before they arrived. Police were informed that goods to the value of £2,500, namely two iPads and a laptop computer had been stolen. The items were never recovered.
The appellant was identified by CCTV footage which showed him entering and leaving the building. There was no footage which showed him actually committing the theft. He was arrested in October 2013 and immediately in interview admitted committing the offence. He subsequently pleaded guilty before the Magistrates' Court and was committed to the Crown Court for sentence.
The appellant was 35 years old at the date of offence and had an appalling criminal record. Since the age of 16 he had been convicted on 54 occasions of 109 offences. His record contained large numbers of non-dwelling burglaries and as recently as the 8th June 2011 he was sent to prison for 33 months for five non-dwelling burglaries. He committed this offence whist on licence in regards to that earlier term of imprisonment. The appellant was sentenced on the basis that he was a career commercial burglar and that the offence was premeditated.
In sentencing the appellant, the learned judge expressly took into account the fact that his guilty plea was tendered at the first possible opportunity. However, he adopted the view that the evidence against the Appellant was "overwhelming". Therefore he allowed only a 20 per cent reduction for the guilty plea, which he was entitled to do according to paragraphs 5.3 and 5.4 of the "Sentencing Guidelines Council's Definitive Guideline on Reduction in Sentence for a Guilty Plea" which states: –
"Where the prosecution is overwhelming, it may not be appropriate to give the full reduction that would otherwise be given. Whilst there is a presumption in favour of the full reduction being given where a plea has been indicated at the first reasonable opportunity, the fact that the prosecution case is overwhelming, without relying on admissions from the defendant, may be a reason justifying departure from the guidelines."
In those circumstances a reduction of 20 per cent, rather than 33 per cent, is likely to be appropriate.
Held: The learned judge erred in not giving the appellant the full 1/3 reduction for his timely guilty plea. The case against the appellant, whilst strong was not "overwhelming". He had been identified by CCTV which showed him entering and exiting the office building. He was not captured committing the theft. He was seen by a witness (the cleaner) but was not specifically recognised or identified. The items stolen were only found to be missing once the police arrived.
The Court of Appeal stated that it was "not inevitable" that the appellant would plead guilty. He could have contested the identification from the CCTV footage. By the appellant admitting the offence in the police interview and pleading guilty at the first opportunity before the magistrates', he saved valuable public time and resources. The appeal was allowed, the sentence quashed and replaced with a sentence of two years and eight months' imprisonment.
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