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R v Pierce

Summary

The appellant was sentenced to eighteen months' imprisonment on one count of theft and to a consecutive term of six months' imprisonment on one count of handling stolen goods, making a total sentence of 24 months. A co-defendant, Mark Fletcher, was sentenced at the same time to eighteen months' imprisonment on the count of theft.

Whilst visiting the home of a friend, Fletcher distracted the victim by talking about a mutual friend, and the appellant went upstairs. He stole a laptop, a Nintendo, several computer games and a mobile phone.

On a police search of Fletcher's home they found a mobile phone which had been stolen in a domestic burglary earlier that day. Further enquiries revealed that the appellant had pawned a quantity of jewellery taken in the same burglary (the subject of the handling count). CCTV footage from a local pawn shop also showed the appellant and Fletcher trying to pawn the laptop and Nintendo they had taken from Mr Barker's home.

The 41 year old appellant had a number of previous convictions for driving offences, theft from a dwelling, making a false statement to obtain benefit, handling stolen goods and shoplifting.

It was submitted that the theft fell within the lowest category of the Sentencing Council's guideline for theft in a dwelling, that is theft in a dwelling not involving a vulnerable victim; and that there was no justification for the judge to have treated the offence as falling outside that category.
It was said that the judge's sentence of eighteen months' imprisonment for this offence took the offence, wrongly, into the highest category of theft from a vulnerable victim involving, amongst other things, the use of deception. There was some suggestion by the judge (though it does not feature in his sentencing remarks) that Mr Barker's partner was a vulnerable victim by virtue of her absence from home at the time of the offence, which the court said would plainly not have been a correct way of looking at the matter.
The court accepted the submission that, on the face of it, the offence fell within the lowest guideline category for theft in a dwelling. However, the features of the case justified a sentence significantly above the guideline range for the relevant category. The element of deception was a clear aggravating feature. Although the goods stolen were not of sufficient value to take the offence automatically into a higher category, they were of substantial value; £1,500. However, the theft of a laptop, with the particular worry and inconvenience almost inevitably caused to the victim, was a further relevant factor. In addition, the appellant has a record of dishonesty, albeit his offending has not been of the most serious character and he had not previously received a custodial sentence.

Taking everything into account, the appropriate sentence for the offence of theft would have been one of six months' imprisonment after allowing full credit for plea.

As regards the handling offence, it was submitted that the jewellery in question here may have had sentimental value, but that its monetary value was small. In any event, all the items were recovered and the only loss sustained was by the pawnbrokers who were unable to recover the money paid to the appellant. It was accepted that the offence had the aggravating feature that the items had been stolen in a dwelling-house burglary which was proximate in time to the appellant's handling of the items: there was a matter of only hours between the events.

The court did not accept that the consecutive sentence of six months' imprisonment for the handling offence was either wrong in principle or manifestly excessive, or that it resulted in an excessive total sentence.

Accordingly, the appeal was allowed only to the extent of quashing the sentence of eighteen months' imprisonment on the count of theft and substituting a sentence of six months' imprisonment on that count, leading to a total sentence of twelve months' imprisonment.

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