Teen who committed knife assault in Edinburgh has sentence reduced

Lord Menzies
Lord Menzies

A teenager who was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment after committing an assault with a knife has had his sentence reduced by eight months on appeal. 

The appellant, known as JB, argued that the original sentence of six years’ imprisonment, discounted to four years on account of his guilty plea, was excessive in light of his youth and the fact that it was his first offence. 

The appeal was heard in the Appeal Court of the High Court of Justiciary by Lord Menzies and Lord Pentland

Toxic childhood stress 

The appellant, who was aged 16 at the time of the incident, had been at a friend’s house on Gilmerton Road, Edinburgh, on 14 April 2019. At approximately 5pm he ran out of the house carrying a pink kitchen knife and attacked the complainer, who was walking along Gilmerton Road, stabbing him repeatedly with the knife. 

The complainer suffered three penetrating stab wounds to his left anterior chest and required surgery that left a scar. His injuries were life threatening. The incident was captured on CCTV footage which showed the appellant striking the complainer. 

At the diet in January 2020, counsel for the appellant told the court that the appellant had never been in trouble before, was in employment, and accepted that a sentence of detention was inevitable, facing up to what he did. At the sentencing diet a criminal justice social work report was provided as well as a psychological report from Dr Suzanne Zeedyk. 

Dr Zeedyk concluded that the appellant had experienced significant childhood trauma resulting in toxic childhood stress, leaving him unable to manage strong emotions. In light of this report, it was submitted at the sentencing diet that a robust community disposal as an alternative to custody was an appropriate sentence. 

The sentencing judge concluded that the gravity of the offence required the imposition of a significant custodial sentence. On account of the appellant pleading guilty at the earliest opportunity, the full discount on the custodial tariff was applied, resulting in a sentence of 6 years’ imprisonment reduced to 4 years, with the starting point having been derived from the lower end of first-offender adult sentences. 

On appeal, it was submitted that the sentencing judge had erred in concluding that a non-custodial sentence was not appropriate in all the circumstances, and that in any event a starting point of six years’ detention was too high. The appellant had shown a good deal of insight into the negative impact his actions had upon the victim and his family, and had been assessed as suitable for a community based disposal. 

Counsel for the appellant also relied on the report from Dr Zeedyk, which identified specific adversities in the appellant’s life, such as the sudden disappearance of his father and erratic housing and care, which had contributed to his emotional state and left him less able to manage strong emotions. 

Difficult sentencing exercise 

The opinion of the court was delivered by Lord Menzies. He began by considering the nature of the crime, saying: “We have found this a particularly difficult sentencing exercise, and any remarks we make should not be interpreted as being critical of the sentencing judge. We begin by agreeing with his observations as to the seriousness of this crime. Notwithstanding the youth of the appellant, this was such a serious crime that we consider that only a custodial sentence was appropriate in all the circumstances.” 

On whether the sentence imposed was excessive, he said: “We have reached the conclusion that it was indeed excessive, having regard to the very supportive terms of the CJSWR and the careful report by Dr Zeedyk. Unlike some other cases involving young accused, this is not a case in which there is no glimmer of hope; it appears to us possible that the appellant will be successfully re-integrated into society. He has shown some maturity and considerable empathy. He appears to have progressed well in detention, and it is to be hoped that this progress will continue.” 

Regarding the calculation of the original sentence, he said: “The exercise of sentencing a child such as the appellant does not involve a direct or arithmetical equation with sentences which might be appropriate for adult offenders. From [his sentencing remarks] it appears that the sentencing judge has carried out a form of discounting exercise, taking as his starting point the sentence that would be appropriate for an adult offender. To that extent we consider that the sentencing judge erred in the approach he adopted.” 

He concluded: “Taking all the factors in this case together, including the seriousness of the offence, the difficulties highlighted in the appellant’s background by Dr Zeedyk’s report, and the supportive features highlighted in the CJSWR, we have reached the conclusion that a starting point of 6 years is indeed excessive and does not pay adequate attention to the best interests of the appellant and his re-integration into society. We consider that a starting [point] of 5years detention is appropriate in the particular circumstances of this case.” 

For these reasons, the appellant’s original sentence was quashed. The same level of discount was awarded in respect of the new sentence, resulting in a sentence of 40 months’ detention. 

© Scottish Legal News Ltd 2021

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