I’m a criminal.
It’s true. I admit it now. I’m a hardened criminal, a repeat offender and here’s the evidence. I have exceeded the speed limit on more than one occasion. I failed to tax my car numerous times over the years and when I used to smoke I threw many cigarette butts on the ground with reckless regard to the consequences. Not only that, but I have been intoxicated in public, used obscene language and – if only I could remember – perhaps engaged in lewd acts, though this behaviour has never been confirmed by witnesses. Fortunately.
In the distant past, I failed to keep an accurate tally of the drinks I consumed before driving.
In recent times, I lit barbecues and pizza ovens without permission, thereby breaking the law regarding backyard burning. I love blaspheming and I have occasionally disrespected people in authority.
It’s not looking good, is it?
No. It doesn’t look too good at all, but in my defence, there’s one thing that doesn’t appear in my list of transgressions as a career criminal, so can you guess what that thing is?
Of course you can: it’s violence and as a bonus, here’s another thing: robbery.
I’ve never robbed anyone. I’ve never beaten anyone up. It’s not in my nature.
Now, does this make me unique? Certainly not. A quick straw poll of my friends and acquaintances reveals the number of them who have convictions for violence, robbery or a combination of both and after some hard hours collating the results,
I’m happy to tell you that the figure comes to precisely zero.
My guess is that you know exactly the same number of people who have committed crimes of robbery or violence and, although there will be the occasional aberration, the likelihood is that we know precisely the same number of convicted criminals: none.
What then are we to make of the recent convictions involving violent robberies in Pallasgreen?
Judge John Hannan in Limerick Circuit Court imposed a 17-year sentence on Patrick Roche, 54, from Clondalkin in Dublin.
The judge gave Patrick’s 24-year-old son, Philip Roche, 15 years in jail and consigned their accomplice, 37-year-old Alan Freeman, to 14 years in the slammer.
Good. That’s the sort of sentence these people deserve for terrorising old people in their homes. If I had my way, they’d face a much more severe penalty but, perhaps luckily, since we live in a civilised society, I don’t make these decisions. Sentences should not be based on emotional reactions, no matter how much we want the criminals to suffer.
On the other hand, of course, simple one-dimensional measures such as jail sentences are a crude measure of retribution, no matter how nuanced the judges pretend they are. Jail sentences are a limited response to a multi-dimensional problem and we need to look beyond them, in my opinion.
We need, as a society, to introduce far more restorative justice but unfortunately that isn’t happening and so we’re left with one-dimensional prison sentences that demonstrably don’t work.
Patrick Roche has 139 previous convictions.
His son Philip has 37 previous convictions.
Alan Freeman has 22 previous convictions.
They all got free legal aid, every one of them, even though they have demonstrated that they are all violent career criminals.
Recidivists who keep returning to crime no matter how often they’re caught.
Why did they get free legal aid?
Simple. They likely have no legal income.
Why do they have no legal income?
Simple. They are violent thieves who keep committing crimes every time they get out of jail. The fact that they spent their lives being violent thieves beating up old people is the thing that entitles them to free legal aid.
Think about that.
Yes. I’m a criminal. I’ve broken the speed limit. I threw fag-butts on the ground. I might even have had two pints instead of one. You’re probably a criminal too, but did either of us target old-age pensioners and beat them black and blue?
If you find yourself in trouble with the law, even though you might be innocent, you won’t get free legal aid, because you work for a living instead of earning your money through robbery. And it will cost you tens of thousands of euros to prove your innocence which you will not get back from the State. No government lawyer will offer to take your case to the High
Court, as will likely happen with the Roches, father and son, and with Mr Freeman, because nobody is going to pay your costs, unlike these habitual violent criminals.
Doesn’t it anger you?
It angers me that recidivist criminals have the presumption of innocence no matter how many violent crimes they have committed. This, in my opinion, is illogical.
We need a different system which takes account of human frailty while punishing hard-core thugs, but could it be so difficult to come up with a solution? The US custom of three strikes is too extreme, as are many other things in the American penal system, but perhaps we could settle on a structure analogous to our penalty points. Maybe we could agree that somebody who commits one crime or three crimes or five crimes, depending on their severity, is entitled to be treated as innocent, but that somebody with 100 violent crimes is regarded as a low-life with no right to public funds and no right to a presumption of innocence since he probably did it anyway.
It’s very hard to see why a habitual perpetrator’s previous history of violent crime should be shielded from scrutiny if that list passes a certain level. Naturally, a presumption of innocence is important to protect decent citizens and even to protect people who haven’t committed too many crimes, but when people leave a lifelong track of criminality behind them, I object to paying for their defence every time they beat up another old person.
What do you think?