Suspended sentence imposed and juvenile justice principles applied in historical sexual offending case

This matter involved very lengthy proceedings against the client, who was originally charged with sexual offences that occurred over a decade prior. We acted for the client from the moment they were charged, all the way to the conclusion of the matter some three years later. The police originally charged the client as an adult, however it was clear that there was a strong likelihood the client was actually a juvenile at the time of the alleged offences. Prior to committal, we were successful in having two charges dismissed by the prosecution, after presenting a written submission.

The matter then progressed to the District Court, where we lodged an application to remit the charges to the Children’s Court on the basis there was no jurisdiction for the District Court to hear the charges. The prosecution ultimately conceded this point and this enabled the charges to be remitted. We had expected to then have a trial in the children’s court on the basis that the client was a juvenile.

However while in the Children’s Court, the State parliament amended the law concerning prosecutions where the date of an accused was uncertain. The changes meant that the Children’s Court had jurisdiction in cases where age was uncertain, despite any evidence an accused was actually 18. Unfortunately the changes did not state what would occur at sentencing in a case where there was good evidence an accused was over 18 at the time, despite some evidence they may have been 17.

The prosecution then amended the charges to allege a date range when the client was either 17 or 18. It was unclear whether the prosecution would seek to allege the client was 18, despite clear evidence that the client may have been 17 at the time.┬áThe client elected trial by jury in the Children’s Court, and the matter proceeded to trial in the District Court. Following a long and emotionally charged trial, the client was convicted by a majority verdict of all counts in the indictment. The prosecution had alleged at trial that the charges occurred when the client was 18, but the prosecution also accepted the client may have been 17 and told the jury they did not need to be certain one way or another of the clie age.

The matter was then listed for sentencing. There was a strongly contested issue as to whether the client should be sentenced as a juvenile, or an adult, because of the changes to the law concerning prosecutions when an accused’s age is uncertain. Ultimately, the trial Judge accepted our submissions that the client should be sentenced as a juvenile, regardless of any evidence the client may have been 18. This had significant ramifications for the sentence imposed, and also the length of time the client would have convictions before they would automatically expire.

We presented detailed and persuasive sentencing submissions in which we argued the client should receive a suspended sentence. The Judge agreed with our submissions and imposed a suspended sentence, notwithstanding the seriousness of the offences. This was an excellent outcome which enabled the client to finally move on with their life after long and difficult litigation, without having the disastrous impact of having to serve a term of imprisonment.

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