A recent appeal has highlighted the way in which offenders who have turned 18 while waiting for a sentencing hearing should be treated.
Age during sentencing: why does it matter?
In England and Wales, there are different sentencing guidelines for offenders who are under the age of 18. Young or youth offenders typically receive more lenient sentences than adults. In law, an adult is anyone aged 18 or over.
What if someone has just turned 18?
But what if someone was under the age of 18 when they committed an offence, but aged 18 or over by the time they reach sentencing?
This is not an implausible scenario. Someone may commit an offence while they are aged 16 or 17, but due to delays in the court system, may not have a sentencing hearing until after their 18th birthday.
The case of Spivey
This was relevant in the recent case of Spivey. He was sentenced when he had just turned 18 years of age. The judge decided to impose an adult sentence, which the defence team appealed against. The Court of Appeal agreed that the sentencing judge had made an error and reduced the sentence by almost 15%.
Age and maturity
This case shows that just because an offender has reached their 18th birthday upon sentencing, does not automatically mean that he/she should face an adult sentence. Instead, the judge should focus on the offender’s age and maturity at the time of the offence.
This is set out in the sentencing guidelines for children and young people. Section 6 states that where an offender turns 18 after committing the offence, the court should take as its starting point the sentence which would have been imposed on the date of the offence.
So, if an offender was 17 when the offence was committed, the sentencing judge should treat him/her as though they were still 17. This includes young people who turn 18 while awaiting sentencing.
This is just the starting point: the sentencing judge can then take various other factors into consideration when making their decision. This includes the likely reform and rehabilitation of the offender, and the protection of the public.
The guidelines say that it will “rarely be appropriate that a more severe sentence than the maximum that the court could have imposed at the time that the offence was committed should be imposed. However, a sentence at or close to that maximum may be appropriate”.
How much are youth sentences reduced by?
Those who are aged between 15 and 17 when committing a criminal offence can expect to receive a sentence in the region of half to two thirds of the adult sentence.
Greater reductions are allowed for those under the age of 15.
The age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales is 10 years old. This means that children under 10 cannot be arrested or charged with a crime. Instead, they may be subject to a local child curfew or a child safety order.
Can you make an appeal?
Judges do make errors when sentencing, as this case illustrates. If we believe that our client has received an unjust sentence, we can advise on the prospects of an appeal.
Contact our criminal defence lawyers
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