Written by Andrew Tiedt
July 31, 2014
~~A quite extraordinary story appeared on the Sydney Morning Herald website on July 11th 2014.
The story concerned to a man sentenced for a Drive Whilst Disqualified offence at Newcastle Local Court. Nothing that unusual about that.
The interesting part is that Mr David Browne has now been disqualified from driving until 2153. His predicament is a perfect example of the problems that Mandatory Sentencing can cause.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald story (which you can read here http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/nsw-man-banned-from-driving-until-2153-20140711-zt3tf.html), after being disqualified from driving for a comparatively short period of time some years ago, Mr Brown spent 22 days behind the wheel as the driver of a bus.
That is flagrantly illegal, and worthy of a stern penalty from the Court. What happened however was that Mr Brown was charged with 22 separate counts of Driving While Disqualified. When he pled guilty to those offences, he received a total disqualification period of over 100 years.
This is as a result of the Habitual Offender Declaration laws that require the imposition of five additional years of disqualification when a person commits a third major offence within five years.
The law requires that, unless a Court proactively orders otherwise, upon the commission of a third major offence within a five-year period, a further five years of disqualification are added to a person’s disqualification period.
This is regardless of the sentence handed down by the Magistrate for the offense in question.
This comes on top of a mandatory two-year minimum disqualification for a person who has committed a Drive Whilst Disqualified offence where they have previously committed a similar offence in the five years preceding the new conviction.
Mr Browne apparently is in poor health and is incapable of driving in any event. He says he is selling his car and has no need to drive again.
For many people however, long periods of disqualification can have devastating effects upon their personal life and their employment.
This is especially shocking where the research shows that further periods of disqualification have little or no deterrent effect on persons disqualified from driving.
The research shows that it is not tougher penalties that motivate persons to avoid reoffending in this way, but rather an increased likelihood of detection.
In other words, when a disqualified driver is deciding whether to drive or not, the question the disqualified driver usually asks him or herself is not “What penalty will I get if I am caught?” but rather “Will I be caught?”
It is only by impressing upon disqualified drivers the very real chance that they will be caught and penalised that the Government is likely to be able to dissuade these persons from driving.
In the meantime, there are many people like Mr Browne who have been sentenced to dozens or even over 100 years of disqualification from driving. Unfortunately it seems unlikely that it will ever be politically expedient to consider changing the system to remove these disqualification periods, and we therefore will continue to deal with the social and economic problems these long disqualification periods result in.