The 2015 documentary series Making a Murderer follows the story of two men from Wisconsin whose confessions helped to convict them of sexually assaulting and murdering a woman.
One of the convicted was an impressionable teenager called Brendan Dassey. Dassey’s conviction was overturned in 2016 (confirmed on appeal in 2017) on the basis that his ‘confession’ to the murder was coerced by police officers who exploited his vulnerable nature.
What is the law in the England and Wales?
Provisions in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 allow courts to reject confessions of this kind on the basis that they were obtained ‘oppressively’ or are unreliable. The relevant statutory provisions are ss. 76(2)(a) and (b) and 77 of the Act.
What does “oppressive” mean?
The term ‘oppressive’ has caused problems for the courts. It seems to be agreed that oppression implies some “impropriety” which compromises the confession’s veracity: Fulling  QB 426.
Uncertainty exists, however, as the same sort of behaviour in different cases has led to the confession being excluded in one but not the other: Paris (1993) 97 Cr App R 99; L  Crim LR 839.
What about unreliability?
Aside from oppression, confessions may be excluded on the basis of unreliability. This unreliability may come about via “anything said or done” or something problematic concerning the circumstances in which the ‘confession’ was made.
An important point to note is that the suspect’s own conduct cannot undermine a confession: Goldenberg (1988) 88 Cr App R 285.
Another important reason to exclude a confession on the basis of unreliability is where the suspect is mentally unfit. There is a separate section of the 1984 Act dealing with this: section 77. In particular, this seeks to protect suspects who may be suggestible and may simply go along with police officers’ leading questions about an alleged offence.
Deciding on the admissibility of confessions
The actual process for deciding whether a confession can be admitted is a ‘voir dire’. That is essentially a mini-trial within or alongside the main trial. Section 76(2) of PACE gives guidance on this point.
The prosecution must prove to the criminal law standard that the confession was not obtained in the way alleged by the defence, otherwise it will be excluded. And, although there is some disagreement, the standard position appears to be that the defendant’s evidence at the voir dire cannot be admitted during any trial for the substantive offence: Wong Kam-ming  AC 247.
How we can help
If you are concerned about the conduct of police officers and/or the reliability of a confession made while in custody, please contact John Howey on 020 7388 1658, or email@example.com.Read More
There are two distinct criminal offences, one of harassment putting people in fear of violence and one without. Stalking is a similar but separate offence and is not covered in this article.
What does it involve?
There has to be a course of conduct involving as little as two incidents against another person or persons.
The dictionary definition is to “torment by subjecting to constant interference or intimidation”.
The law does not provide a comprehensive definition and there are many actions that can foreseeably alarm or cause a person distress that would not constitute harassment.
The offence is aimed at conduct that alarms or causes a person distress and which is oppressive and unreasonable.
What do the prosecution have to prove?
- That there is a course of conduct;
- which amounts to harassment of another; and
- which the defendant knows, or ought to know amounts to harassment of another.
Additionally, for the more serious offence the prosecution has to prove:
- that the course of conduct causes another to fear that violence will be used against him; and
- that the defendant knows or ought to know that his course of conduct will cause another to fear that violence would be used against him
How do I know it is harassment?
The test of whether you ought to know whether the course of conduct amounts to harassment is whether a reasonable person, in possession of the same information, would think the conduct amounted to harassment. The same test applies in respect of fear of violence.
Are there any time limits?
At least one of the incidents has to have occurred within six months of the charge, for the basic offence without violence.
What about defences?
There are three available defences for the basic offence:
- that the course of conduct was for the purpose of preventing or detecting crime;
- that it was conducted under a rule of law;
- that it was reasonable in the circumstances.
Additionally, it is a defence for the more serious offence if the course of conduct was reasonable for the protection of the defendant or another or for the protection of their or another’s property.
What sentence can I get?
For the offence without violence (the basic offence) up to six months imprisonment can be imposed (2 years if racially aggravated).
For the more serious offence involving fear of violence the maximum sentence was 5 years and is 10 years for offences committed on or after 3rd April 2017 (7 or 14 years if racially aggravated, again dependent on date of offence).
A restraining order can also be imposed, the aim of which is to protect the victim of the offence from further incidents, contact or risk of violence. Such an order can prevent contact with the victim and provide for an exclusion zone around their address. A restraining order can be imposed even if you are acquitted of the offence.
The law in respect of harassment and the potential defences is complicated, and there are other specific offences of harassment (for example of debtors) that are not covered in this article.
How we can assist
If you are being investigated for or have been charged with this offence please contact our office for further advice and representation, our solicitors are experts in criminal law and can guide you through the complexities. Please contact John Howey on 020 73881658 or firstname.lastname@example.orgRead More
You may have heard about ‘texts’ or a ‘brown envelope to the Judge’, some of the names for the old system by which someone could get a reduced sentence.
If you helped the police a ‘text’ may be handed to the sentencing judge explaining that you had assisted and a reduction in sentence may have followed. It was a murky world, clouded in some secrecy and one that few people properly understood.
A formal statutory system has now been put in place to regulate reduction in sentence for a defendant who aids the authorities, although the ‘text’ regime is still around.
The aim of the new regime is to govern assistance provided and the benefits that might flow as a result.
The old principles (the text) remain in use as it has always been the case that anyone convicted of a crime will receive credit against sentence for assistance rendered to the police or authorities.
Requirements under the new regime
The key features of the statutory scheme are:
- The offender must admit the full extent of his own criminality before the statutory framework can begin to apply, and he must agree to participate in a formalised process which has its own immediate purposes intended to avoid some of the problems which the earlier processes could create.
- Provided the offender admits the full extent of his criminality the process is not confined to offenders who provide assistance in relation to crimes in which they participated, or were accessories, or with which they are linked.
- This is largely a new process in which a post-sentence review of the sentence passed in the Crown Court can be reviewed in a judicial process on a reference back to the court by the prosecutor. That does not prevent there being such an analysis during a Crown Court sentencing decision.
- The decision whether a reduction in sentence should follow a post-sentence agreement is vested in the judge sitting in the Crown Court. The court is able to take into account the specific post-sentence situation. That is quite different from the former practice.
- If in the end the offender fails to comply with his agreement, that does not itself constitute a crime but he is liable to be brought back to the court and deprived of the reduction of sentence which has been allowed or would have been allowed if he had complied with the agreement in full.
New versus old
Following the new regime, rather than the old text regime, may result in a greater discount in sentence. There is no guarantee, however, that providing information will result in a reduction in sentence. It would very much depend on the nature of the information, how it can be used, and whether action can be taken by the police as a result (particularly action that might result in others being prosecuted).
It is important to note that as the formal regime requires full admissions of any criminality on your part, this may result in further charges being brought against you or further offences being taken into consideration on sentence. There is a careful decision to be made here.
How will I know if it has been taken into account?
The law says that if you are given a reduction in your sentence you have to be told that you have been given a lesser sentence and you must also be told what the greater sentence would have been. You will then know exactly how much of a reduction you were given.
How we can help
The decision is not an easy one, nor is the process, because of the potential consequences, which may include having to attend court as a witness, or receiving a longer initial sentence.
It is vital, therefore, that you obtain expert advice before speaking to the police. If this is something that you wish to discuss, please contact John Howey on 020 7388 1658 or email@example.comRead More
In recent years legislation has been enacted to ensure that crimes demonstrating hostility towards certain groups of people are treated more seriously than before. If an offence is said to be racially aggravated, then you should expect a heftier sentence.
What does it mean?
An offence is racially aggravated if, at the time of the offence, you demonstrate toward the victim hostility based on his / her membership of a racial group or the offence is motivated by that hostility.
So, shouting racist abuse or making comments, will make an offence racially aggravated, as will the situation where no comments are made but the offence is committed against someone because of their race.
Offences as a result of hostility toward a religious group, rather than racial, are treated in the same way.
The fact that the victim may be indifferent to any abuse is irrelevant to whether the offence is racially aggravated.
It is also irrelevant if the reason for the offence was unrelated to race. For example, abusing a doorman because he wouldn’t let your friend into a club.
How does it affect sentencing?
Each offence in law has a maximum sentence attached to it; for offences that are racially aggravated that maximum sentence is increased. For example, common assault carries six months imprisonment, the racially aggravated offence increases to a maximum of 2 years, for actual bodily harm the maximum sentence increases from 5 to 7 years.
The starting point is to consider the sentence that would have been imposed for the offence if it was not racially aggravated, considering all other aggravating or mitigating factors.
The sentence will then be increased to take account of the racial aggravation.
The extent of the increase in sentence will depend on the level of aggravation. The court will consider whether the offence was:
- part of a pattern of offending;
- deliberately set up to be humiliating to the victim
- committed in the victim’s home
- repeated or prolonged.
Account will also be taken of any distress caused to other persons or the wider community and whether the offender was a member of a group that promotes hostility.
Does it have to be charged as being racially aggravated?
Even if the offence isn’t specifically charged as being racially aggravated the circumstances can be treated as an aggravating feature in sentencing (O’Leary  EWCA Crim 1306).
How can we help?
We can advise you whether your behaviour does come within the racially aggravated definition or not, consider the evidence for you and we can also advise you on the likely penalty. This article is intended as a brief overview, if you would like to discuss any aspect of your case, please contact John Howey on 020 7388 1658 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.Read More