Judge cites exceptional circumstance
Samantha Natasha Brown received a suspended sentence for theft of $20,000 from her employer after the judge found that an abusive relationship was an exceptional circumstance.
Brown was sentenced on Thursday to 12 months’ imprisonment for the theft, but the sentence was suspended two years.
Justice Malcolm Swift noted that both Crown counsel Toyin Salako and defense attorney John Furniss had referred to the best-known sentencing authority for breaches of trust, the 1985 U.K. case of Barrick, which states that in general, an immediate custodial sentence “is inevitable save in very exceptional circumstances or where the amount of money obtained is small.”
The judge agreed with Ms. Salako that the amount of money was not small. After hearing about the duress Brown, 30, was under because of the abusive relationship she was involved in, Justice Swift agreed with Mr. Furniss that there were exceptional circumstances.
Brown pleaded guilty to stealing four sums – $12,000, $2,000, $4,000 and another $2,000 – between Nov. 29, 2013 and April 25, 2014, plus four counts of forgery during that period. A charge of false accounting was left on file.
Brown was employed with a property management company in a supervisory/managerial capacity, Ms. Salako said. The employer noticed a discrepancy with accounts in July 2014, with $20,000 listed for construction.
When she asked Brown abut it, Brown said she had asked several condominium owners if she could borrow money and they had agreed. However, it turned out that their signatures were forged.
Brown then sent a letter to the employer admitting borrowing the money and saying she would repay it. The defendant did not repay the amount Ms. Salako emphasized, although the bank subsequently covered the amount.
Brown breached the trust of her employer and her clients, Ms. Salako pointed out. The company owner was extremely distressed and for a while worried that her business would not survive this level of dishonesty. She believed her business reputation had been tarnished and she had lost potential clients. Although she did not lose the $20,000, she had to obtain legal advice at some cost.
Mr. Furniss said Brown was “under fire” from the individual with whom she had formed a relationship, either through physical violence or the very controlling way in which he controlled her life. As an example, he noted that the relationship began in January 2011, and the man “moved into her apartment without asking in February 2011.” The man manipulated her finances and took over her car to the point that she had to hitch rides. She remained in the relationship because she had children by him.
Mr. Furniss pointed out that Brown did not benefit from her thefts. The first money she stole was to buy a motorcycle for the man. Justice Swift said the evidence seemed to make it clear that she stole $12,000 one day and paid $11,000 the next day for the motorcycle. “Couldn’t police seize it?” he asked.
The attorney replied that it was apparently in the man’s name. The bike had been imported, so there was also duty to pay and then other related items, he indicated.
His final point related to the children. The Court of Appeal had specifically stated that being a parent of young children was not an exceptional circumstance, he noted, but he had mentioned it so that the court would have an overall picture.
In passing sentence, Justice Swift noted Brown’s initial prevarications when her offenses were discovered. He said he was satisfied she had stolen the money and passed it on to her partner in cash or in kind. The first thefts went for the motorcycle, while later thefts “went down the same sinkhole … . You were trying to keep an abusive relationship afloat.”
Following U.K. guidelines that set a sentencing range of 12 months to three years, he considered mitigating factors and reached a sentence of 18 months. Allowing a one-third discount for Brown’s guilty plea, he imposed a sentence of 12 months on each offense, all to run concurrently.
He then posed the question, “Should it be served immediately? Or are there exceptional circumstances?” After reading all the reports about her life, he considered that the relationship she had been in and the pressures she had been under were exceptional.
“Sending you to prison would achieve nothing,” he told Brown. Instead, he directed that she be the subject of a suspended sentence supervision order for two years. She must comply with all lawful instructions from her probation officer or Department of Community Rehabilitation officer; attend counseling and/or group sessions as directed; submit to any treatment or assessment required; engage in the parenting program and any co-parenting mediation sessions as directed.
The sentence will remain on her record and, should she commit any further offense over the next two years, she could be liable to serve this term of imprisonment in custody in addition to any other fine or sentence imposed for the further offense.