What is a Sentencing Discount in New South Wales?

by Ugur Nedim & Sonia Hickey
Supreme Court NSW

22 year old Sydney man Mert Ney has been sentenced to a full term of 44 years in prison, with a non-parole period of 33 years, after pleading guilty to murdering 24 year old sex worker Michaela Dunn before running through the city streets terrorising people with a bloody knife.

The offences

Mr Nay met Ms Dunn at her apartment after making an appointment with her for sexual services.

During the encounter, Mr Nay stabbed Ms Dunn repeatedly before filming the crime scene on his phone and sending graphic images to his friends.

After leaving the apartment, Ms Dunn rampaged through the Sydney CBD wearing a balaclava and brandishing a knife.

He injured bystander Lin Bo, before being chased by members of the public who risked their own safety to perform a citizens’ arrest and pinned him down with a milk crate and a chair.

A cruel, brutal and terrifying attack

During the sentencing hearing, Supreme Court Justice Peter Johnson took into account Mr Ney’s mental health issues as well as his plea of guilty when imposing the sentence.

More than 1500 pages of mental health and medical reports were presented to court, describing Mr Ney’s mental health issues.

However Justice Johnson also called the murder ‘a cruel, brutal and terrifying attack made for no reason’. He described Mr Ney’s social media videos as “gruesome and bizarre”.

The court was played the Snapchat videos one, of Mr Ney and his bloodied victim and wrote ‘I’m fucking psycho,’ … ‘I was laughing bro. The fear,’ after sending the short clip to a friend.

He took another video of him standing in the fire-exit stairwell pointing to the blood all over his hands and his shoes before leaving a trail in his wake.

‘Obsessed’ with the Christchurch massacre

The court also heard that despite proclaiming “Allahu Akbar” in both his social media videos and on the streets, Mr Ney was not motivated by religious extremism.

Rather, he made the comment and wrote the posts in the hope of being shot dead by police.

The court also heard Mr Ney was “obsessed” with footage of the Christchurch massacre.

The presiding judge found that Mr Ney “took on the trappings, gestures and language of a terrorist” . He appeared to be influenced by the Christchurch terrorist murders and mass killings and also had a morbid interest in violent interactive video games.

His Honour ultimately applied a 10 percent discount to his sentence due to his plea of guilty.

Mr Ney was originally charged with murder, attempted murder, wounding a person with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, intentionally choking a person with recklessness and common assault.

As police investigations continued, he was also subsequently charged with possessing child abuse material, possessing 1.6 grams of cannabis and going armed with intent to commit an indictable offence.

Mr Ney pleaded guilty to the murder of Michaela Dunn, and wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm for stabbing Lin Bo on a nearby street.

He will be eligible for release at the age of 53.

Discounts for guilty pleas

Section 22 of the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999 (the Act) provides that in passing sentence for a person who has pleaded guilty, the court must take into account:

  • the fact a plea of guilty has been entered,
  • when the plea was indicated, and
  • the circumstances in which the plea was indicated.

The section further provides that any discount must be disproportionate to the nature and circumstances of the offence.

This is called a ‘utilitarian discount’, which means a discount for saving public resources including investigative and prosecutorial time, as well as court time.

The discount – which courts have found can be up to 25% – can reduce the time a person spends in prison, but can also result in a more lenient type of penalty being imposed – such as an intensive correction order rather than a prison sentence.

The utilitarian value of a guilty plea is significantly diminished where it is entered very late in the proceedings, such as on or after the first day of a trial. 

New scheme for sentencing discounts

In light of the finding that 23% of guilty pleas are entered on or after the first day of trial, new reforms were recently introduced to encourage early guilty pleas.

The rationale behind the the new scheme is to provide ‘swifterg, more certain justice, reduce stress for victims and court delays’.

The scheme, which is contained in section 25D(2) of the Act, prescribes the following discounts:

  • ​25% for a guilty plea before committal in the Local Court; in other words, before an indictable offence (an offence which can be referred to a higher court) is referred to the District or Supreme Court,
  • ​10% for a guilty plea more than 14 days before the first day of trial in the District or Supreme Court or where the defendant complied with the pre-trial notice requirements and pleaded guilty at the first available opportunity able to be obtained, and
  • ​5% thereafter.

In all circumstances, Judges retain the discretion to provide no sentencing discount (or a lesser discount) in cases of extreme culpability.

The emphasis on providing a significant discount an early guilty plea has been the subject of debate for some time, given that it has the potential to put pressure on defendants to plead guilty, and could in fact mean that people who are not guilty of an offence plead guilty because they fear the justice process.

Going to court for a criminal or traffic offence?

If you have been accused of a criminal or traffic law offence, call Sydney Criminal Lawyers on (02) 9261 8881 to arrange a free first conference with an experienced defence lawyer who will advise you of your options and the best way forward, and fight for the optimal outcome whatever your situation may be.

For your convenience, we have criminal lawyers based in Parramatta and the Sydney CBD, as well as offices by appointment throughout the Sydney metropolitan area, Newcastle and Wollongong.

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Authors

Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Criminal Law Specialist with over 20 years of experience as a criminal defence lawyer. He is the Principal of Sydney Criminal Lawyers®.

Sonia Hickey

Sonia Hickey is a freelance writer, magazine journalist and owner of 'Woman with Words'. She has a strong interest in social justice, and is a member of the Sydney Criminal Lawyers® content team.

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