Contempt – a wretched case

Jason Hall pleaded guilty to a charge of contempt of court. He came before Justice Harrison for sentencing.

The occasion of the contempt was an application for bail by Hall at Campbelltown Local Court on 22 March 2007 after he had been charged with assaulting his female domestic partner. Bail was opposed by the prosecutor and refused by Magistrate Hammam. Hall (aged 33) then said to her:

“How about I just plead guilty to the whole fucking lot and just send me to gaol?

Yeah, I am. I’m guilty on the whole lot. Send me to fucking gaol you piece of shit. It’s fucking wrong.

It’s wrong, look, you’re a female . . .

Of course you’re going to charge me.

Of course you’re going to go against me because you’re female.

Fuck brief nothing. Just – I’m pleading guilty on the lot. Don’t worry about it. Change it right now, pleading guilty on the fucking lot.

When I come back here in a week I don’t want to see you, you putrid fuck.

I would too if I was you, you fucking cunt, fucking dog, fucking moll.”

Following a short adjournment her Honour made an interim apprehended violence order against Hall in respect of the alleged victim.

Hall was subsequently sentenced to 8 months’ imprisonment for (it seems) one of the assaults, with a 4-month non-parole period which he served. The contempt charge was brought by summons in November 2007.

Hall gave evidence which put his outburst from the dock in a little more context. To quote Harrison J’s judgment:

6 The evidence of the defendant, given by affidavit made 18 July 2008, was that on the morning of 21 March 2007 he spoke to police and agreed to attend Macquarie Fields Police Station later that day. He attended the police station at about 10.00am, accompanied by his sister. He had ingested a large amount of speed earlier in the day. The officers dealing with his matter were not there when he arrived and so he waited outside the police station for about one hour until they returned. He was arrested outside the police station at about 11.00am.
7 The defendant said that the police told him that if he handed himself in that he would be granted bail. They had asked his sister to attend with him to facilitate that. The police subsequently opposed bail. The defendant was then taken from Macquarie Fields Police Station to Campbelltown Court cells. He was not brought before a court that day. Whilst in custody in the cells the defendant told the gaol staff that he had wanted to jump in front of a bus recently and that he had stabbed himself in the stomach with a pair of scissors. At about 4.00pm he was taken to Campbelltown Hospital for a psychiatric assessment. He was later returned to the Campbelltown Police Station. He said, “Things seemed to be going really quickly and I do not remember much from that night. I was still feeling the effects of the speed I had taken earlier”.
8 The defendant was given Avanza at the Campbelltown Police Station. That is an anti-depressant. That made the defendant “really hyperactive” for about 20 minutes and then he “slowed down heaps”. He said he remembers lying watching television in the cells but little else. His next memory is of being in the cell when the door opened. He had what he described as “the dry horrors”. His mouth was very dry, he was trembling and shaking and was coming down from the effects of speed and Avanza. He does not remember eating any breakfast.
9 The police took him to court. He said he remembers being refused bail “by a lady magistrate”. That made the defendant feel “really angry” because the police at Macquarie Fields Police Station had told that he would get bail if he handed himself in. He said that he remembers saying words to the Magistrate but has no recollection of what he said. When he received the summons in these proceedings his partner read to him what it contained, including the transcript of what he had said in court. He said he was shocked and felt “really bad about what [he] had said”. He has never said anything like this in court before.

One moral of this is that you should almost never believe anything of this sort that you are told by a police officer. Of course, the police officer could have simply said that Hall was more likely to get bail if he turned himself in; even then the police officer might not have known the state Hall was in or would be in when he turned up at the police station.

Hall also wrote an apology to the magistrate as follows:

“To the magistrait

I realy don’t know whot to say to you. I don’t remba much at all about the hole thing. All I can remba is going to hand my self in that day at Macfelds Police. Thay sed to me that I would get bail. So that’s wot I did handed myself in so I could sort this mes out. Eneyway from that morning I was verey heavley on speed I was that high I did not no who I was that day and night frome court cells thay took me to Campbeltown Hospital. I don’t remba why. I whent thair for from hospital thay took me to Campbeltown cells it was to late to go into court when I got back to cells thay gave me my Azansa plus some other pill. Arfter that I don’t have much memrey of it but when my girl frend red it to me I was verey discusted in whot Ive sed to you. Ive never told a juge of ever befor and Im verey sorry for whot I sed to you that day I realy am. I have a 2 year old girl and a 8 month old boy and one due in October 18 that will be three kids. My girl frend would not be able to 2 cope with 3 kids if Im put back into goal. My father has only got 1 to four months to live as well Ive only just found this out about one munth ago. I do not do drugs no more. I have bean of drugs for about 16 months. I am a lot betta since Ive bean of them. I hope you can understand my righting and speling as Ive had little schooling. I all so have hep C and liver problems Ive bean told that I have to go on Intafurone it is the same thing as keymo therpey. If Im jailed over this matta I carnt go on the program. So pleas take my apolergey and sorry that is all I can remba of it. I carnt say its not my voice becouse it is but I did not mean to upset you in eney way at all or leav the court room. I was only gelty on one charge. That’s why I fort the other charge and beat it. I was more upset about whot Ive sed to you and Im verey sorry and I hope you take my apolegee. As I don’t whont to go back to jail. As Ive bean out four 18 months and haven’t bean in trouble for eneything so pleas take my apolergey it is from my hart. Im verey sorry.”

As Justice Harrison recounted, Hall told Dr Nielssen, a psychiatrist who prepared a report for the proceedings, that he basically lost his temper when he handed himself in to police. Hall said that he and his partner were still together and that she was pregnant with their third child. Hall told the doctor that he had stopped using drugs apart from cannabis.

Hall reported that he began using cannabis and alcohol at the age of nine and was using heroin regularly by the age of eleven. He said that from mid-adolescence his drug of choice changed from heroin to amphetamines and said that he used amphetamines regularly until giving up last year.

Hall was the oldest of four children and has no contact with the three younger siblings, although he understood that one of his brothers also had an amphetamine abuse disorder. He said that he had a “very bad” early childhood and that his parents separated when his father was sent to gaol when he was six years old. Soon after that that he became a ward of the State. He had been placed in several boys’ homes.

Hall told Dr Nielssen that he had never worked consistently and that his only long-term job was eight months in a metal workshop in early adult life. He now receives a Disability Support Pension although he was not sure why he was granted it. He had several relationships of three years’ duration and had a total of eight children aged between thirteen and one year of age. He and his current partner were expecting another child. He is only in contact with the two children to his current partner and did not know how the other six children were progressing.

And the pathetic detail, interests (they always ask people this for psych reports):

He said that he had previously played softball for fun and that his main hobby was fishing with a friend who accompanied him to the interview. They met whilst the defendant was living in a caravan park on the Central Coast.

Dr Nielssen:

“diagnosed substance dependence and abuse based upon the defendant’s account of long-standing abuse of amphetamines and complications of drug use, including transient psychosis, depression, problems in his relationship and criminal charges. Dr Nielssen opined that a combination of the effect of the drugs he took and his anger towards his partner and the police, as well as the circumstances of the hearing, were probably factors that contributed to his behaviour in court before the Magistrate. The defendant reported that he had given up drinking and abusing amphetamines and had resumed the relationship with the partner who was the subject of the assault. Dr Nielssen recommended that the defendant seek further treatment for his drug abuse disorder.”

Well, that’s not very hard advice to give, though probably a lot harder to follow. I reckon Hall would be doing well just to stay off the drugs he says he has given up.

Hall was probably lucky that the matter came before Justice Harrison. His Honour said that frustration with the outcome of the bail application was no excuse, but he then went on to say that Hall’s outburst (which he said “was not the product of any discernible reasoning process”) was associated with drug withdrawal and was in itself a kind of self-harming behaviour. In the particular circumstances, he found that the dignity and reputation of the court remained intact. His Honour concluded:

The defendant has been subjected to the rigours and uncertainties that these proceedings by themselves have no doubt caused: see, by way of general analogy, R v Hernando [2002] NSWCCA 489; (2002) 136 A Crim R 451. I note the apology of the defendant and the evidence that he gave. Both indicate contrition and remorse. I accept that the imposition of any further punishment upon him will in his particular circumstances be harsh. There is also the prospect that a reasonable and reasoned result from a court system with which he has had such unfortunate experiences may itself have an educative and rehabilitative effect upon him.

As to the last sentence, well, we shall see. Nothing much that any other judge or magistrate has said to Hall seems to have worked very well so far.

Hall was sentenced until the rising of the court – that is, for as long as the judge then took to adjourn.

Other more blimpish judges may not have taken such a mild approach.

7 Responses to “Contempt – a wretched case”

  1. wanderer Says:

    Marcellous, I see you have added me to your blogroll, thank you kindly, to be reciprocated when I advance that far.

    This case disturbs me, looking at it as I am from outside the legal prism. It worries me that Mr Hall was given Avanza (plus some other pill, he says in his apology) at the Police Station. Is this common practice? Is medication in custody medically prescribed? The benefits of Ananza are of slow onset (weeks often), some side effects (mania) more immediate. His Honour noted drug withdrawal (Hall’s fault) as a factor in the outburst, but did not mention administered drugs (someone else’s doing).

    It is depressingly sad. Reading the apology, (like reading some Peter Carey script, except for the obvious, it isn’t) nearly broke me.

    Whatever this man needs, jail is not it. If his behaviour were the result of a cerebral tumour, he would have been carted off to hospital, quick smart. He is no less ill.

    I don’t mean to be combative, but rather ask the question to what extent our jails are holding places for people society has yet to learn how to deal with in a more appropriate way.

  2. marcellous Says:

    Wanderer:

    Did you read the full judgment in the link at the top?

    I have mixed feelings about this case. I can’t answer the questions about the administration of drugs, except that it seems that the defendant was given the Avanza and the other pill (probably valium according to the psychiatrist) on the morning of the 22nd. He was carted off to the hospital on the afternoon of the 21st (after which he spent that night in the cells).

    There must be an outburst from an angry defendant who is right on the edge because of withdrawal symptoms or whatever every day. You do have to wonder what is achieved by bringing contempt charges against them and especially long after the event. It’s not as if they are likely to have the means to pay a fine.

    Any deterrent effect may not work on the the truly out of control but may still be useful for people who are in a position to take a more calculated assessment of their prospects of being punished for such behaviour and maybe pull their heads in when they can – and there are such people.

    I’m not in favour of imprisonment ever, but if there was to be imprisonment for this it would have been better if it could have been dealt with more quickly with, say, a nominated period stuck on the end of the non-parole period (remember – he did in fact assault his partner and at some stage pleaded guilty to this, and it must have been reasonably severe if he got 4 months non parole for it, you would think) rather than it dragging on until he is out again and another child conceived and possibly some rehabilitation occurring and then thinking about putting him back inside again. Ironically, that probably occurred because of due process which is conceived at least in some ways to be for his benefit (and the expenditure of rather a lot of money in bringing the proceedings and getting him represented).

    However, I don’t think you should assume that the written apology is a totally uncrafted document, and you have to remember that the life story is just his version as told to the psychiatrist – a point which, for reasons of simplicity, I have perhaps not made as clear as I should have. I have made a cheap point about other (hypothetical) blimpish judges, but in fact I suspect that many judges who see this sort of thing every day might not have been prepared to allow that Hall’s comments had no discernible reasoning process. Even in his apology, Hall sticks to one reason – that he was only fighting one charge – and the reasoning about female magistrates is perfectly discernible. Nor might they have made the same gracious allowance of pity for a man with bad spelling.

  3. wanderer Says:

    No I didn’t (read the link), but yes, I have now.

    To the possible deterrent effect of the charge of contempt, I would add that the formulation of an apology (with or without help) is a worthwhile exercise, for anyone. Whether it is worth the (public) cost is another matter.

    I think we are all better off that this charge was handled the way it was. Anything more punitive, presumably jail, there is no money, is nothing more than landing on a snake, and back to start. I winced at the word pity, I have to say.

    The generational transference is what is most alarming.

    Can the courts order rehabilitation, and monitor/enforce it, as opposed to making a recommendation?

  4. marcellous Says:

    W, I’m not exactly clear what aspect of “p–y” you winced at: my usage or the situation described?

    The only real way compliance/rehabilitation can be monitored is by either a bond or some kind of parole – and then of course the ultimate sanction is just sending someone back to gaol.

    You’ll notice that Hall’s and the court’s chronologies don’t quite stack up. He says he has been out for 18 months whereas he cannot have completed his 4 months until July of last year. If he really has given up drugs and alcohol (other than marijuana) then on his account this seems to coincide with prison and possibly then the parole period.

    And yes, the generational transmission of dysfunction is alarming. It’s more than just the usual Larkinesque “fuck you up.” I guess you noticed (I deliberately didn’t comment on that in the post proper though most canny readers would probably have suspected this might be the case) that Hall was represented by the Aboriginal Legal Service.

    Now that I have read the judgment again, I see that the matter to which Hall pleaded guilty occurred right outside the Macquarie Fields police station. Whilst the exact facts were in dispute, this account of the range of the dispute given by the magistrate at the time she refused bail is hardly cheering:

    “The second incident the defendant has pleaded guilty to, though he does dispute. Once again it is very serious facts as far as the allegation is concerned. The allegation being that he grabbed the victim by the head and pushed her down and kneed her, noting that their child was present during the assault. Then he punched the victim twice to the head and that there was a tug-of-war over the pram and also noting that the victim was pregnant at the time.

    In that particular case I note that the facts say that the victim walked into Macquarie Fields Police Station immediately after the incident. In fact it appears to have occurred right outside the police station and provided police with statements and showed red marks to the police along with scratches and marks on the left of her neck.

    Now, I am told that the defendant agrees that he pushed and bit the victim on that occasion. I am not quite sure how pushing and biting a pregnant woman assists her when one is concerned about what is said to be her drug habit, but in any event that is said to be what the matter is about.”

    There must have been aggravating factors, such as a breach of parole, and priors for him to have got 4/8 months for this, though it may be this just shows how out of touch I am with current sentencing practice, as almost all sentences to me to be out of whack.

  5. wanderer Says:

    M, no it wasn’t that you used that word, but it caught me by surprise, and on first read there seemed an unpleasantness about the situation, which I suspect is exactly the opposite of the intent. Rereading it, ‘gracious’ in the same sentence didn’t help either. The law and the use of language – not easy for the outsider. On the premise that ‘projection makes perception’, I imagine I see the word very differently to the way the law sees it.

  6. marcellous Says:

    W: (it’s just us here, I think!):

    It just shows how difficult tone is in the written word. What I was trying to convey with a touch of irony was my own ambivalence about something which seemed to me to be a cluster of pity, sympathy, mercy but also condescension from a height which might not be shared by people who are closer to this sort of thing on a daily basis.

  7. wanderer Says:

    Yes, and I have to step out of the room for a day, talk soon.

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