I recently was waiting at the Local Court in the Downing Centre for my client’s matter to be heard.
The majority of the cases before the Court were offences of violence.
One man who described himself as having ‘a strong moral compass’ and particularly a dislike for ‘littering’ hit a person waiting at a bus stop late at night after he saw that person discard their rubbish.
A bus driver grabbed a sixty-four (64) year old woman who had been a passenger on his bus and who had an issue with his driving. She stood outside the bus taking photos of him and he got off the bus and grabbed her to stop her behaviour.
A thirty-three (33) year old man with no criminal history threw his mobile phone on the ground in the workplace then threw a mug of water on his colleague, smashed the mug and injured the colleague resulting in an injury requiring stitches.
A man who took offence to something he thought someone said to his girlfriend at McDonalds proceeded to grab a pole and ‘trash’ the frying station and assault a number of McDonald’s staff members.
And then there was the bespectacled year 11 female school student who assaulted security and police due to being denied entry to a nightclub on her eighteenth (18) birthday.
My client was arrested at Mardi Gras after he punched a police officer (with no effect!); he then proceeded to escape from police custody and run down the road in handcuffs chased by a police officer on a motorcycle.
Not all of the offences involved people under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. Diagnosed mental health issues featured in some of the matters.
In all matters the Court was sending a strong message to the community of ‘general deterrence’. Violence is not to be tolerated in society and punishment will follow. The penalties ranged from ‘good behaviour bonds’ with and without a conviction recorded, to fines, to community service.
Punishment is only one of the purposes of sentencing. Rehabilitation is another important purpose of sentencing. Accordingly, the Courts are looking for ways to try and treat this problem of social violence and aggression.
Studies have shown that impulsivity and acting aggressively could be due to low levels of a chemical in the brain called Serotonin. Other studies have suggested that medications taken to treat depression called ‘Selective Serotonin Reuptake inhibitors’ (SSRIs) may help with these problems by increasing the levels of Serotonin in the brain (sertraline is one such medication).
In our Local Court at Gosford (and other courts in NSW) there is now pre-sentence referral by the Court for repeat violent offenders to participate in a study called ‘Reinvest’. The study is to find out whether people in the criminal justice system who are impulsive and have problems with violence and aggression would benefit from treatment with sertraline.
Watch this space in relation to the results in current court matters.