A mother of four, grandmother and live-in carer for her elderly parents, Genevieve was also dealing with depression and several painful medical conditions when she first attended our Goodna Advice Bureau. This was a time in Genevieve’s life when all of her energy was focused on family and a rare night out had resulted in four criminal charges.
Genevieve’s mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer mid-last year. She decided to move from her own home, several hours’ drive away, to care for her mother. During this difficult period, Genevieve had been looking forward to a rare evening out at a music concert.
After a night drinking with friends, Genevieve could recall little until she woke up in a Police cell the next morning and discovered she had been charged with several serious offences – fail to leave licensed premises, public nuisance in the vicinity of licensed premises and two charges of assault or obstruct police officer in a public place while adversely affected by intoxicating substance.
CCTV footage showing Genevieve being taken from the licensed premises suggested she was highly intoxicated at the time of arrest. However, without any further evidence it was impossible for Genevieve to provide instructions. Genevieve was upset at her behaviour and confused about how the night had so easily escaped her control.
In an attempt to gain further evidence, Salvos Legal Humanitarian took on the matter, appearing on Genevieve’s behalf in seeking an adjournment and requesting further evidence from Police. Police refused to provide any further footage, including the body camera footage worn by an arresting officer. In order to obtain this evidence, Genevieve instructed us to enter a plea of not guilty and a hearing date was set down.
Shortly prior to the hearing, Salvos Legal Humanitarian obtained the Police Brief of evidence which included three witness statements by the arresting police officers and the police-worn body camera footage. There was little evidence provided in support of the public nuisance charge, as this occurred prior to the police arriving on the scene. However, the footage clearly showed Genevieve’s behaviour in obstructing the police was influenced by her intoxication as well as her ongoing injuries in her shoulders which were exacerbated by being hand-cuffed.
Genevieve expressed how she felt extremely ashamed of her behaviour and frustrated that an evening planned for enjoyment could turn so wrong. She sought an assessment by a qualified professional as to whether she has a problem with consumption of alcohol and is regularly seeing a counsellor in relation to trauma she has suffered in the past. Genevieve is also dealing with the death of her mother, while caring for her elderly father.
Salvos Legal Humanitarian briefed Counsel on a pro bono basis. Counsel advised that, although the evidence was not strong and her behaviour would likely be considered at the low end of the spectrum of all four offences, the defence of intoxication was unlikely to be accepted by the court as the on person footage showed that Genevieve was comprehending and responding lucidly to the officers. After providing the police-worn footage to Genevieve and discussing with her the possibility of a term of imprisonment if a finding of guilt was made at trial (given the seriousness of assaulting and obstructing a police officer), she spent some time thinking about how she would like to proceed.
In preparation for the hearing, and on the basis that Genevieve clearly showed remorse and her actions were out of character, Genevieve wrote a letter of apology to the officers involved and sought a letter from her mother’s doctor to show the kind of care she was providing at the time of the incident. Genevieve’s Church minister agreed to come along on the day to support her.
Genevieve instructed us to enter a plea of guilty to all four offences. On the basis of a timely plea and the evidence provided, Counsel negotiated with the Police Prosecutor prior to the sentencing hearing, and the Prosecutor agreed to drop the charge of obstruct police officer in a public place.
On the day of sentencing, due to the advocacy skills of Counsel, the presiding Magistrate clearly understood the situation leading up to the events and acknowledged Genevieve’s behavior was out of character. The Magistrate placed great weight on the letter of apology and personal circumstances of Genevieve. In turn, the resulting sentence was well received by our client. Genevieve was ordered to complete the minimum mandatory punishment of a 40 hour community service order and no convictions were recorded. The relief and gratitude Genevieve felt as a result of our assistance showed clearly on her face as she cried and hugged each of us outside the courtroom.
If Salvos Legal Humanitarian had not provided Genevieve with assistance, it is possible a great injustice could have occurred. As a self-represented litigant, it is unlikely Genevieve would have been able to communicate her situation to the court at all. Her difficulty in coming to terms with events she had no recollection of would likely have been detrimental, had the matter proceeded to trial.
Genevieve has learnt the hard way the importance of prioritising her own wellbeing as well as those she cares about.