As the summer drew to a close, the national press was buzzing with opinions on the immediate prison sentence imposed on Dean Saunders, former Liverpool striker, for an offence of refusing to provide a specimen of breath for analysis. Saunders’ representative confirmed to Chester Magistrates Court that the sentence would be appealed to the Crown Court at the time it was imposed. An application was also made for bail, pending the outcome of the appeal, but District Judge Nicholas Sanders refused this application and Saunders was immediately taken to custody.
A further application for bail pending appeal was made to Chester Crown Court, and was granted. Saunders was released after serving one day of his 10 week sentence, until the appeal could be determined by the Crown Court.
Saunders’ appeal was heard on 4 October 2019 by Chester Crown Court. The Court was persuaded by arguments advanced on Saunders’ behalf that the sentence imposed was excessive and that there was a viable alternative to immediate custody, and varied the sentence by suspending the custodial term for 18 months. During this time, Saunders was ordered to complete 200 hours of unpaid work supervised by the Probation Service. If Saunders is convicted of a further offence during the period of suspension, or fails to complete the unpaid work without a reasonable excuse, he can expect to serve all or part of the 10 week prison term. He would of course receive credit for the day he served in September. The 30 month driving ban remains unaltered.
The outcome has received mixed reviews in the press, with some reports that Saunders has received special treatment due to his previous success as a footballer. However it is important to remember that the grounds for suspending a sentence of imprisonment are set out by the Sentencing Guideline Council and apply to all criminal courts, regardless of how famous or talented the Defendant may be. The Crown Court would have considered whether adequate punishment and rehabilitation could be served in the community, the impact on any dependent children, and personal mitigation – which can consider the timing of plea and any remorse expressed. Prison sentences should be a last resort and the Court should always consider whether a sentence can properly be suspended before imposing immediate custody.
Blog by Sophie Cohen