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Criminal Law Blog NSW

Rachel Burgess entered a guilty plea to a violent assault

When a sentencing decision begins with “Drugs are terrible things,” goes on to proclaim that drug addicts “lie, cheat, steal and rob with depressing regularity with little thought at all to the consequences of the victims,” and characterizes a victim as “a kind and friendly 77 year old man,” you might expect the decision to end with the imposition of a prison term. That is exactly what happened in R v Burgess [2012] NSWDC 260.

Rachel Burgess entered a guilty plea to a violent assault. The court considered a number of factors before deciding that the facts of the case warranted imprisonment.

Facts of the crime

Burgess befriended an elderly man. She was a drug addict although she did not disclose that fact to her friend. When the cost of her drug habit exceeded her ability to pay, she borrowed $1,000 from her friend, claiming she needed the money to pay debts. She borrowed money on other occasions until the day he refused, when she punched and kicked him before stealing the contents of his wallet ($70). She later told the police a series of lies, including the accusation that her friend attempted to sexually assault her.

Character of the offender

Burgess is 41. The court recognized that she had a traumatic childhood. She dropped out of school at 14, left home at 16, and had her first child at 17. She has a record of violent criminal offences but had never before been sentenced to prison. She also has a history of mental illness, although the court did not view that illness as being related to her crime.

Burgess began using cannabis and drinking excessively while she was still a teenager. Later she became addicted to amphetamines. She entered a rehabilitation program about five years before her current offence. She was abstinent for a period of time but began using amphetamines again, apparently after she lost her job.

Burgess had a good work history until she lost her job for chewing gum. She described that event as the catalyst for her most recent criminal behaviour.

The court credited Burgess with acting impulsively rather than with the premeditated intent to assault her friend. On the other hand, the court did not consider her to be less culpable because of her drug addiction, given that she made the choice to begin using drugs, knowing that she might become addicted to them.

The court credited Burgess with being sincerely remorseful for her conduct, although her remorse was described as “belated.” Her decision to accuse her friend of criminal conduct suggested that Burgess was not immediately remorseful.

Sentence imposed

The sentence was primarily driven by the facts of the crime, which the court described as “one of the lowest criminal acts that it is possible to contemplate.” The court did note, however, that Burgess has a potential for rehabilitation if she can put her drug use behind her. The court expected that Burgess would have a better opportunity to remain drug-free after her release from confinement if she received an extended period of supervision on parole. The court viewed that as a “special circumstance” that justified shortening the non-parole period of the sentence.

The court imposed a sentence of 4 years. It imposed a non-parole period of 2 years.

Disclaimer : This article is just a summary of the subject matter being discussed and should not be regarded as a comprehensive legal advice for you to defend yourself alone. If you are charged with criminal offences, it is recommended that you seek legal assistance from criminal lawyers.

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