Spence v HM Advocate

 

Summary

This discusses whether it is ever appropriate to discount a sentence in a situation where an accused’s offer to plead guilty to a lesser offence has not been accepted by the Crown, but where the accused is ultimately convicted of that less serious offence. 

 

Nature of case

This case is about sentencing discounts (see also the cases of Du Plooy and Gemmell). 

 

Facts

Paul Spence was charged with murder by stabbing. Before the preliminary hearing, his solicitors wrote to the Crown asking what the Crown’s position would be if Mr Spence pleaded guilty to culpable homicide, which is a less serious charge than murder. The Crown replied that such a plea would not be acceptable.

At the preliminary hearing, Mr Spence pleaded not guilty and lodged a special defence of self-defence.  

The case went to trial. On the first day of the trial, Mr Spence’s representative told the Crown that he “would plead guilty to culpable homicide”. The Crown rejected that plea. The trial then took place. Mr Spence was found guilty of culpable homicide.

He was sentenced to 8 years’ detention in a Young Offenders Institution, because he was 17 at the time the crime was committed, and 18 when sentenced.   

 

Issue

The issue was whether it is ever appropriate to discount a sentence where an offer to plead guilty to a lesser offence has been rejected by the Crown, but the accused is ultimately convicted of that less serious offence. 

 

Decision

In this case, the judges held that:

In this case, despite the principles outlined above, the judges in the Appeal Court decided that the sentencing judge was wrong to give the accused a discount on his sentence because he had indicated a “willingness to plead guilty” – the appeal judges thought that, because the accused had actually pled not guilty and indeed claimed that he had acted in self-defence, meant that he should not be given any discount. For that reason, they decided that the sentence imposed by the trial judge was not long enough, given the seriousness of the offence committed, and so substituted it with a sentence of 10 years detention instead.  

 

Spence v HM Advocate