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Court took account of lenient sentence given to an accomplice who was arguably more culpable

An offender was sentenced on two drug charges in R v Matthew Mark Renehan [2008] NSWDC 95. The case explains key principles of sentencing on drug charges in NSW.

On three occasions, Renehan sold an average of 3.2 grams of methamphetamine to an undercover police officer. Those three transactions resulted in a criminal charge of supply of a prohibited drug on an ongoing basis in in violation of section 25A(1) of the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act 1985 (DMTA). The maximum sentence of imprisonment for that charge is 20 years.

The undercover officer asked Renehan to deliver an ounce of methamphetamine and Renehan agreed to do so. When the time came to make the delivery, however, Renehan’s associate, McDonald, actually transferred possession of the drug and collected the officer’s money. That transaction resulted in a charge of supply of a prohibited drug in violation of section 25(1) of the DMTA. The maximum for that charge is 15 years.

Renehan entered a plea of guilty to both counts and came before the court for sentencing. McDonald had been sentenced in an earlier proceeding for the offence of supply of a prohibited drug, based on his involvement in the transaction with the undercover officer.

Role in the offence

The judge expressed some frustration that Renehan and McDonald were not sentenced together. McDonald was given a lenient sentence after persuading his sentencing judge that he was just doing a favour for Renehan and was not in the business of delivering drugs. Renehan, on the other hand, took the position that he was helping McDonald with his finances by supplying drugs in the earlier transaction, and that McDonald handled the second transaction by himself because Renehan refused to be involved in the delivery of such a large quantity.

Faced with those inconsistent assertions, the judge decided to give Renehan the benefit of the doubt. Having no evidence to contradict Renehan’s contention that he became reluctant to supply methamphetamine before the large transaction was to be completed, the judge took his reluctance into account when imposing sentence.

Offender’s character

The judge noted that Renehan grew up in a supportive, intact family and was able to gain employment in the field of IT sales and support. He did well in that position. He provides financial support for a 9-year-old daughter and has a good relationship with her. He is engaged to a woman with whom he has lived for a number of years.

Renehan responded to a series of deaths of friends and relatives by drinking and gambling. He also began using recreational drugs. Stress may have contributed to his decision to sell drugs.

Renehan explained his motivation to sell drugs as a desire to fund his own drug habit and to help McDonald, who was in financial trouble. The judge noted, however, that Renehan would only have been able to McDonald by selling substantially more drugs, and therefore did not view that motivation as a mitigating fact.

The judge accepted that Renehan felt genuine remorse and accepted responsibility for his crime. The judge also accepted that Renehan learned from his experience and was a better person at the time of sentencing than he was when the crime was committed.

Other factors affecting sentence

The judge noted that the Court of Criminal Appeal urges the imposition of a full time custodial sentence for drug trafficking in the absence of extraordinary circumstances. The judge noted two circumstances that he regarded as mitigating but not extraordinary. First, incarcerating Renehan would cause significant adversity to his daughter, who would lose his financial support. Second, Renehan was less culpable than McDonald, who was sentenced leniently.

On the other hand, the judge believed the gravity of the offense required a sentence of imprisonment. The need to protect society from drug dealing precluded suspension of the sentence.

Sentence imposed

On the count of supply, the court imposed a twelve month sentence. On the count of supply on an ongoing basis, the court imposed a head sentence of two years with a non-parole period of twelve months commencing six months after the start of the sentence imposed on the supply charge. Combining the two resulted in a total sentence of two-and-a-half years and a non-parole period of eighteen months.

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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