£90 million of cocaine – what’s that worth (in years)?

 On 30th January two people, Piotr Pachnia and Tomasz Dylik, were sentenced to 24 and 18½  years respectively for importation of cocaine. The rules on release are complex, but they will both serve about half of that in prison. Why did they get this?

The maximum sentence for importation of Class A drugs (such as cocaine) is life imprisonment. Whilst no-one will generally get a life sentence (and we believe that no-one ever has) it allows the court to pass any determinate sentence for as long as they feel is necessary. The sentence received by Mr Pachnia is very long. It will be, in all probability, one of the longest determinate sentences handed down this year. If there are longer sentences then it will likely be for other drug cases.

The starting point is, as usual, the guidelines. There are specific ones for drug offences. Looking at the guidelines for importation, it is said that the upper point is 16 years, which is lower than both people got. This can be explained by the fact that the amount of drugs for a Category 1 offence is 5kg – the amount here is so far in excess of that that a judge is entitled to go outside the guidelines (the guidelines note “Where the operation is on the most serious and commercial scale, involving a quantity of drugs significantly higher than category 1, sentences of 20 years and above may be appropriate, depending on the role of the offender“).

The Judge seems to have determined that both Mr Pachnia and Mr Dylik were in a ‘leading’ role (rather than ‘significant’ or ‘lesser’). Given the amount of drugs (the UKBA apparently said that it was one of the largest quantities ever seized) the presence of the listed aggravating and mitigating features does not have any great relevance. It should be noted that the purity was 90% – very high.

Why did Mr Dylik get a (much) lower sentence? He pleaded guilty. A guilty plea at the earliest opportunity is normally worth a one third discount. It is not clear whether the Judge thought that they should have the same starting point, but Mr Dylik pleaded guilty after the proceedings had been under way for a while (a 23% discount), or the Judge took a higher starting point for him than Mr Pachnia, or perhaps both. We would not be able to say until there is more detail, either by way of the sentencing remarks being published or there being an appeal

On the face of it, although the sentences were very high, they are explicable given the amount of drugs involved. A wider question is whether sentences of 20 years are ever appropriate and, if so, whether they should be reseved (as they currently are in practice) for drug offences?

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About Dan Bunting

I'm a lawyer who works for myself. Legal geek, maths freak, general dullard and jack of all trades. Here’s a few views on law and occasional musings on life. Usual caveats about not relying on anything I say etc applies.

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