R v Williams: Considerations in Sentencing Young Sex Offenders

R v Williams concerns appropriate sentencing for a young offender guilty of multiple counts of child pornography offences, threatening behaviour, and harassment.

By use of false identities, threats, and blackmail, Williams had manipulated and coerced the underage complainant into sending him more than 100 explicit photos and videos of herself. Williams had also threatened the sister and mother of the complainant in his pursuit of such images. At trial, the accused pleaded guilty to the offences which had occurred over a 13 month period whilst he was 17 and 18 years of age. The complainant during this time was 16 and 17 years old. Both Williams and the complainant lived in separate states and all communication had occurred online and through telephone.

At first instance, Williams was sentenced to three years imprisonment on the first count of using a carriage service to cause child pornography material to be transmitted to himself, and was sentenced to lesser periods of imprisonment for the remaining counts. The sentencing judge made an order under s 20(1)(b) of the Crimes Act 1914 (Cth) for Williams to be released on recognizance after serving seven months imprisonment.

On appeal, the applicant argued that the actual period of custody (seven months) was too severe and “manifestly excessive,” and did not take into account all the particulars of the offences. The applicant’s submissions proposed a period of three to four months. This was rejected by the Court of Appeal in a single unanimous set of reasons. Their Honours considered that the judge at first instance had taken into consideration the unique features of the offences, as well as the characteristics of Williams. They noted that the judge had also considered the complainant’s victim impact statements whilst balancing the possible detriment to Williams’ rehabilitation imprisonment may have.

The Court of Appeal considered five factors to be most important when deciding the sentence for Williams: the prolonged duration of the offences; the depression and anxiety caused to the victim; the fact that Williams was a youthful offender; the fact that Williams had no criminal history; and the possible adverse effects of jailing a youthful offender.

In arriving at these considerations, their Honours concluded that the trial judge had considered these factors and agreed with the decision in R v Leask that such offences bring with them a broad range of possible sentences. They found that the sentence fell within this range and that a distinction between the seven months imposed and the three to four months suggested by the applicant “smacks of the artificial.” The application for leave to appeal was rejected.

Stephen Keim SC
Xavier Radnedge
19 December 2017