10 September 2009

Unfitness to Plead

The Daily Express reports, "HANDLER MAY BE LET OFF FOR POLICE DOGS THAT BAKED TO DEATH IN CAR," in which the reporter explains that the police officer who allowed two police dogs to die in his car during a heatwave may not have to face trial. The story is also covered by other news outlets.

The police officer is being prosecuted, in a private capacity, by the RSPCA using section 4 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which carries a potential penalty of imprisonment (for no more than 51 weeks), a £ 20,000 fine, or both (according to section 32 of the same Act).

Animal cruelty is frowned upon in England and Wales; the BBC reports that when a 19yr old man put a cat into a draw-bag, blew cannabis smoke into the bag, and swung the bag around he was sentenced to a three months prison sentence, suspended for two years (see Cat cannabis attacker sentenced).

So how come the police officer can "get away with it"?

It seems that in the UK the police have a convenient route of avoiding prosecution, Step 1 is to pretend to be mentally ill, not mad but depressed or under stress. This paves the way for the "fitness to plead" process to begin.

The Crown Prosecution Service explains,

"Section 11(1) Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000 and section 37(3) Mental Health Act 1983 enable magistrates courts to make an order in respect of an either way or summary offence without a trial, provided that the court is satisfied that the defendant did the act or made the omission with which he or she is charged."

This process has begun, in less than four weeks (section 11(2)) the police officer will be signed off as unfit to plead by a psychiatrist. The police officer will then take early retirement (with no loss of pension) and everything will be forgotten.

The fitness to plead route, according to anecdotal evidence, is quite often used by offending police officers.

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