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Magistrate laments mandatory sentencing laws

August 24th, 2013

Mandatory sentencing laws have taken away the discretion of magistrates to recourse individuals to non-custodial programs and sentences they deem are without risk to society. With Aboriginal people sentenced at record rates in Western Australia, a Kalgoorlie magistrate lamented during her findings the blight of mandatory sentencing laws.

A 22 year old motorcyclist who evaded police has been sentenced to six months jail for reckless driving.

Noongar, Wongi David Jonathon Yarran pleaded guilty in Kalgoorlie Court to evading police and therefore accepted this was an act of driving dangerously, after he failed to stop for the police check. Mr Yarran was also driving without a licence.

Magistrate Felicity Zempilas heard mr Yarran rode his motorcycle through Perth when police flagged him down to pull over but instead sped past, and in order to evade them drove on the wrong side of the road and ran a red light.

Mr Yarran told the Court he panicked when he saw the police because he did not have a licence. He tearfully expressed that he was remorseful.

Mr Yarran who had never been in trouble with the police cried as Magistrate Zempilas delivered the mandatory six-month prison sentence. She said that if should could have she would have imposed a lesser sentence but lamented that she was not able to do so.

Magistrate Zempilas said the mandatory sentencing laws are “incompatible” with some offences. But she said that Courts have no choice but to engage them, that they are stuck with them.

Since the State Government imposed the mandatory sentencing laws minor offenders have reached record numbers in a WA prison system now with 14 adult prisons and all of them full. Earlier this year the Western Australian prison population exceeded 5,000 for the first time, and is now at more than 5,200 prisoners, of which 43 per cent are Aboriginal peoples. One in every 14 WA Aboriginal males is in a WA prison.

Noongar rights advocate, and law student, Marianne Mackay said that mandatory sentencing laws are both draconian and target Aboriginal peoples. “There should always be the opportunity for a magistrate to consider ones form and content, ones circumstances, and to allow for mitigation. Where this isn’t allowed then all we have is a lock’em up culture which will ensure that the rate of locking up people and demonising them is higher than the release rates, so our prisons will fill up, and they are full.”

“These mandatory laws do not understand that our peoples do not trust police, we have trust issues, there’s history there, and these laws also do not respect our cultural norms and identity. It’s worse in the remote where our people just don’t understand the white person’s ways.”

“The laws ensure that if we bump into someone that our people then get locked up for this, therefore these laws are a form of targeting our people. Is this right?. No, but go tell that to parliamentarians who produce and vote for these deplorable pieces of legislation. This is why WA is a backwater and our people, with the exception of the Northern Territory, suffer worse in WA than elsewhere,” said Ms Mackay.

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