Monthly Archives: January 2014

Life Sentences IV (Release from)

When someone is sentenced to a life sentence (automatic, arising from murder conviction, or discretionary where the maximum sentence is life) the judge must set a tariff.

Setting the tariff

This depends on what type of life sentence is imposed. See our factsheets on mandatory life and discretionary life.

In contrast to a ‘normal’ determinate sentence (e.g. 10 years), release provisions dont apply. A 10 year sentence will result in 5 years in prison and 5 years on licence. A life sentence with a minimum term of 10 years will result in 10 years minimum in prison. Therefore, a life sentence with a minimum term of 10 years, is equivalent to a 20-year ‘normal’ sentence.

Parole Board

The tariff is the minimum term which must be served before the prisoner can be considered for release. When the tariff has expired, the prison is entitled to ask the parole board to be considered for release. They may never be released.

The parole board are concerned with a different question to that faced by the sentencing judge.

The test for the parole board is whether it is “satisfied that it is no longer necessary for the protection of the public that the prisoner should be confined” (Crime (Sentences) Act 1997 s 28)

After release

Released life sentence prisoners are subject to a life licence which remains in force for the duration of their natural life and may be recalled to prison at any time to continue serving their life sentence if it is considered necessary to protect the public.

The man who tried to cash a $360 billion cheque

logo-lexisnexisThis post was created in collaboration with writers at Lexis Nexis

There have been plenty of foolish criminals and stupid crimes in the last few years that  have really made us shake our heads and wonder why. For example, there was Anthony Lescowitch of Pennsylvania who “liked” a wanted photo of himself on the Facebook page of his local police and was lured into capture 45 minutes later, or Harold Wayne Hadley Jr. who was arrested at his junior college for making a joke about “passing a bomb” in the library. It wasn’t a bomb threat, he was referring to a particularly nasty case of flatulence.

However, one of the very best hilarious stupid crime stories comes from a man in Texas, USA who was arrested for trying to cash a cheque for three hundred and sixty billion dollars. Yes, he tried to get the bank teller to give him 360 times more money than Grand Theft Auto V made in its first weekend of sales.

It’s a bit of an old story now, taking place in 2008, however it has gone down in history as one of the most ridiculous stunts that have ever been attempted at a bank.

Charles Ray Fuller, 21, claimed to be starting a record company and said that he had been given the cheque by his girlfriend’s mother. The staff of the bank spotted the 10 zeroes on the personal cheque and quickly realised that something wasn’t right. They contacted the account owner and they were told that she had not given Mr. Fuller any permission to take the cheque or to cash it. Big surprise.

Mr. Fuller was arrested for forgery and was eventually released on a bail of $3,750. When he was arrested it was also found that he was carrying a weapon and marijuana. The case was pretty cut and dry, it doesn’t take a highly educated legal expert who has read every book on LexisNexis Au to know that this guy was up to something dodgy.

What Was He Thinking?

It truly makes you wonder what was going through his head when he walked into that bank. Did he really think that the bank teller would cash his cheque without batting an eye and give him US$360 billion (£217 billion) in cash? Did he even imagine that the bank would have that much money on hand?

Let’s think about how much money $360 billion really is. The Gross Domestic Product (The value of all goods and services from a nation in one given year) of Denmark is only $314.8 billion. The GDP of New Zealand is only $171 billion. Did Mr. Fuller really think that he could get away with cashing a cheque for more than twice the annual gross domestic product of New Zealand?

There are approximately 7 billion people on earth at the moment. If he had been successful and had walked away with the amount written on the cheque, (although this would have upset the entire world economy dramatically) he would have enough money to give every single person on earth a 50 dollar bill (about £30). However, I’m sure he wasn’t planning on spending it in such a generous way.

One Million Dollar Bills?

Charles Ray Fuller is not the only example of foolish criminals attempting to get away with a ridiculous crime. In October of 2007, a man in Pittsburgh was arrested when he tried to hand over a counterfeit one million dollar bill at a supermarket, asking for change.

Three years before that, a woman tried to spend a fake $1 million bill at a supermarket in Georgia. She was also arrested.

When a criminal does something so ridiculous, you must assume that they are either foolish and naïve, or they have very little understanding of how money, banks, cash registers and finances function in general. Otherwise, what could they possibly be thinking?

Written in collaboration with writers at Lexis Nexis Australia

Third twitter prosecution from Criado-Perez case


We looked at the case of two tweeters who were prosecuted for tweets that they sent to Caroline Criado-Perez and Stella Creasy. On 23rd January 2014 it was announced by the CPS that a third person, Peter Nunn, a 33 year old man from Bristol, had been charged with one offence under s127 Communications Act. He was bailed to attend Court on 6th February 2014.

We don’t as yet know the alleged contents of the messages that were supposed to have been sent.

Although this offence is summary only and so won’t be tried in front of a jury (with less risk therefore that a magistrates, whether full or part time, will be prejudiced by anything published), we won’t be looking at in any more detail at this stage.

Ian Watkins seeks permission to appeal

Watkins date set

According to the BBC, Ian Watkins will – as we predicted – seek leave to appeal against his sentence. He was given an Extended Determinate Sentence of 29 years with a 6 year licence. He will have to serve 2/3 of the 29-year sentence and the remainder on licence.

It is unknown whether Watkins’ co-defendants – who are still the subject of anonymity provisions – are seeking to appeal against their sentences.

An explanation of the sentence is here .

The process

The appeal papers will be prepared and put before the single judge. That is a High Court judge who assesses the merits of the appeal on the papers. There is no hearing.

The single judge has two options. He or she either grants leave to appeal – where a hearing before the Court of Appeal follows – or refuses leave – whereupon Watkins has two options: He can drop the appeal or he can ‘renew’ the application, which means he goes before the Court of Appeal to ask for permission at a hearing.

More detail can be found in our appeals factsheet here.


It is always dangerous but I would expect this to get permission and go before the full court (3 judges), probably including the Lord Chief Justice.

We’ll keep you posted…

Stephen Lennon Jailed for Mortgage Fraud

Stephen-Lennon-EDLStephen Lennon, the former leader of the English Defence League found himself in Court on 23rd January 2014 for his sentencing on a mortgage fraud. This was almost a year to the day after he was sent to prison for using someone else’s passport to travel to America.

We don’t have much details. It seems that Mr Lennon was charged with conspiracy to commit fraud and the total value was £160,000. It seems that it relates to a false representation being made on application forms. He was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment.

There are sentencing guidelines that apply (p24). This would seem to imply that the Judge took it to be equivalent to ‘not fraudulent from the outset, but repeated frauds’, We know that Mr Lennon was charged at the end of 2012 so it was probably a plea close to (if not at) the trial date.

We imagine that more information will come out in the next few days so we may come and have a look at it later.

Driver faces prosecution for driving through a puddle


It is the sort of headline you would expect from the Daily Mail, sensationalist, inaccurate and purely designed to add fuel to their ‘this country has gone to the dogs’ fire.

Well half of that is correct. It was in the Mail but it seems as though the headline is right on the money. (See also the article in the Metro).

So, what happened?

The Metro reported that a driver –a 22 year old man thus far unnamed – was driving passed a group of school pupils. He allegedly drove through a puddle ‘soaking’ the group. The incident was seen by PC Mark Hercules who reportedly said:

‘The vehicle was driven through the puddle at a relatively fast speed making no attempt to slow down or avoid it.

‘We could hear the screams from the children as they got drenched in the cold dirty rain water. The motorist drove off. Fortunately, I was able to witness the whole incident.’

The Mail reported that The police officer stopped the motorist and told him he was reporting him for careless driving.

Debbie Pugh was walking with her 8-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter said:

‘My son was crying his eyes out. I was yelling obscenities. I calmed myself down and the next car we saw was a copper’s car.’

What offences might he have committed?

The Metro stated that the Essex police suggested that careless driving was the most obvious choice, and they were right.

 Careless and inconsiderate driving is an offence under Road Traffic Act 1988 s 3:

 ‘If a person drives a mechanically propelled vehicle on a road or other public place without due care and attention, or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the road or place, he is guilty of an offence.’

The section actually creates two offences and the CPS would need to decide which they are charging (See R v Surrey Justices, ex parte Witherick [1932] 1 K.B. 340)

Where inconsiderate driving is charged, it is necessary to demonstrate that the driving caused a road user or other person in a public place was inconvenienced. For careless driving, there is no such requirement. (See Road Safety Act 2006 s 3ZA(4)).

The CPS legal guidance states that driving through a puddle causing pedestrians to be splashed is likely to be considered to be inconsiderate driving.

The penalty is usually a fine and 3-9 penalty points. The court also has the power to disqualify the driver.

Another option would be for an offence against the person, such as a battery, to be charged.

It is a summary only offence which means there is a maximum penalty of 6 months imprisonment. This is not to be confused with common assault, which has the same maximum penalty but different requirements. The difference between the two is often misunderstood or not appreciated:

An assault is committed when a person intentionally or recklessly causes another to apprehend the immediate infliction of unlawful force.

A battery is committed when a person intentionally and recklessly applies unlawful force to another.

The offence can be committed intentionally or recklessly – that is to say, a person does an act causing unlawful force to be applied to another without the specific intent of doing so, but appreciating that his or her actions are likely to so cause unlawful force to be applied.

So, where a driver has seen the puddle and has continued to drive through it, he or she may be guilty of a battery on the basis that they were reckless as to the unlawful force that would be applied to the pedestrians on the footpath.

Is it ‘unlawful force’?

Simply, yes. Just as throwing an egg at someone would be, causing a wave of water to hit them would also be unlawful force.

What will happen?

We’ll keep an eye on it but expect it to be dealt with by a fine. Is there really a need to bring this to court, and waste everyone’s time and money?

Michael Cope jailed for life for murder of former partner

Michael Cope, who has been named by police as the main suspect in the murder of Linzi Ashton


In June 2013 Michael Cope, a man with a history of violence, killed his former partner Linzi Ashton. This was a few weeks after he had attacked her causing her Actual Bodily Harm.

The killing was brutal – Mr Cope inflicted 108 separate injuries, with the prosecutor saying that Ms Ashton “had been punched, kicked, stamped on, cut with a blade, beaten with a metal pole and strangled with a cable tie.

After killing her, Mr Cope tidied the scene (the suggestion being that he was hiding forensic evidence) and went on the run for a month before handing himself in to the police making (it seems) effective admissions to the killing.

Mr Cope was due to stand trial on 20th January 2014 but pleaded guilty on the day of trial to murder and to the previous ABH.

He was sentenced on 21st January to life imprisonment with a tariff (the minimum amount of period that must be spent in prison) of 27 years.

27 years. Why so long? Or, depending on your view, short?

The only sentence for murder is life imprisonment. The issue for the Judge was how long the tariff should be. We have a factsheet on the four starting points here.

We don’t have the sentencing remarks (although some of what the sentencing judge said is in the news reports).

Looking at the mitigating features first (because these apply whatever level the murder was), the main mitigating feature is the plea of guilty (and the fact that he handed himself in may also be, albeit less significant).

On the face of it, this was a murder with a 15 year starting point, but aggravated by the level of violence in the murder and the previous violence. However, even without the mitigating features this would not justify an increase to 27 years.

None of the features of a ’30 year’ murder appear to apply. The closest would be ‘sexual or sadistic conduct’, but the Prosecution have accepted that the murder didn’t have a sexual motive and, whilst the murder was extremely brutal, it does not appear to have been ‘sadistic’.

It is possible that the starting point was 25 years because Mr Cope took a knife to the murder site. Even then, this would still not tell us how we got to 27 years.

So, the reason for the sentence is unclear. We would expect a credit of about 15% because although the plea was entered on the day of trial it appears that the killing had been accepted previously and the Court was awaiting a psychiatric report.


We would have expected, on the facts, to have a starting point of 15 years increased to about 20-24 years to take account of the brutal nature of the attack, the ABH and the previous violence, reduced by about 3 years because of the plea of guilty, so a tariff of about 18-21 years.

This is miles away from the actual tariff, so we would assume that the Judge has taken a starting point of 30 years and reduced it by 3 for the plea. This is higher than we would expect on the guidelines and we would expect there to be an appeal.

Hopefully this will be clarified by publishing the Sentencing Remarks. If and when that happens we will come back to this to see where we went wrong.