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First time offenders Ireland: What do Judges take into consideration when sentencing?

Updated: May 12, 2022

No two defendants are the same.

That’s why -generally speaking- two people who come to court for the same offence might receive different sentences.

That often leads to complaints of inconsistency in sentencing.

But no two people are the same; so that means Judges can treat them differently.

And should.

For instance, two people are convicted of drink driving in court.

The Judge then asks a question.

It is the same question asked by every Judge everywhere in the country at the point of conviction: has this person any previous convictions?

Has that person ever been convicted of a criminal offence before?

That’s important.

A person who has multiple previous convictions should not be treated the same as a person with no previous convictions.

If a person has previous convictions for theft, they can expect to get a different sentence from the person coming to court for their first theft charge.

But previous convictions alone don’t necessarily mean that you’ll be treated much worse from those with no convictions.

What’s important here is “relevancy”: are the convictions ‘relevant’ to the charge you’re now facing?

For instance, if I’m convicted of drink driving and the Judge asks whether I have any convictions, a previous conviction for speeding or driving without tax wouldn’t be considered relevant in deciding what sentence to impose.

This is because the speeding or tax offences are completely different offences to drink driving.

So they’re not relevant.

But if I was convicted of speeding or driving without tax, previous convictions for these kinds of offences would be relevant because they show a consistent pattern of offending in this area.

One caveat: if my previous convictions were from 10 or more years ago, even if they are similar offences, they will normally be disregarded for the purposes of sentence.

Because it's so long ago.

Lets talk about drink driving.

If you come to court and are convicted of drink or drug driving, you will be disqualified from driving.

I'm sorry to say that but it's true.

It does not matter whether this is your first offence.

Disqualification is mandatory and must be imposed by the Judge.

The Judge has no choice.

Does your previous good record serve any purpose at all?

Yes, absolutely.

But only in terms of the fine that the court will impose.

Judges also take into account whether you are working, whether you have dependents to support, your level of cooperation (if any) with the Gardai.

If you have previous convictions for drink or drug driving, you can expect a fine of between EUR700-EUR1000.

If this is your first offence you can normally expect a fine of between EUR250-400.

These are approximate figures obviously.

Judges have a lot of leeway when it comes to imposing penalty for criminal offences.

For instance, if I'm charged and convicted of theft, the Judge can impose the Probation Act and leave me without a criminal record.

This is because it's my first offence.

But I cannot get the Probation Act (no conviction) when it comes to certain offences.

Like drink or drug driving.

If I'm convicted I will be disqualified.

This leads a lot of people to conclude that they have no choice other than to plead not guilty and hope to win at trial.

As a person who travels the country every day for work I completely understand this rationale.

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