Criminal Law

By Aulich


Is Brock Turner’s sentence outrageous? Community responses to sentencing

The unprecedented outrage at Brock Turner’s 6 month gaol sentence reverberated not just in America but throughout Australia and much of the world.  That outrage is understandable. It is cry out for justice to all victims.  I share much of this feeling.

For one moment, appreciate the extent of your feelings and emotion thinking about Brock Turner’s case. Now, can you think of a case where you have felt anything close to this outrage for a sentence that was too harsh? Can you ever remember the media reporting that a sentence in Australia that was too harsh?

Save for the broad community condemnation of the execution of Bali Nine ringleaders Andrew Chan and Maryan Sukumaran, such cases are extremely rare. Even more so for cases in Australia. So what is going on here?

It is justified to have intense feelings of empathy for a victim of a horrific crime and to seek retribution and punishment of the offender. But can we not also be outraged when an offender is sentenced to an unduly cruel and harsh long gaol sentence? Sometimes punishment is completely disproportionate to the crime. Surely that is also worthy of our outrage.

There are real consequences in a media and community passion against perceived lenient sentences without any concern for other harsh sentences. This discourse feeds into “law and order” politics. The Australian trend towards mandatory sentences, non-parole periods and other limits on judicial discretion seems like it has no end point. Again, criminal justice reforms reducing sentencing penalties are rare.

It is a problem hardly unique to today’s society, although our 24-hour news cycle and media overload probably have a part to play. Whether there is a solution remains an unknown. Perhaps acknowledging the problem we face is a good place to start.