Derby County drink driving players sentenced to ‘community service’

Derby County FC footballers, Tom Lawrence and Mason Bennett, have pleaded guilty to drink driving and both were sentenced to ‘Community Service’.

There has been a strong reaction on social media about the case, with some suggestions that the players have ‘gotten off lightly’. In this article, the head of our Motoring Law department, Tom Oates provides some insight into the sentences.

Tom Lawrence and Mason Bennett both pleaded guilty to drink driving and failing to stop after an accident. These are serious offences and the players have understandably received criticism from the public, their club and supporters. Today at Derby Magistrates Court they were both sentenced to:

  • 12-month Community Order with 180 hours of Unpaid Work (‘Community Service’)
  • 2 years Disqualification from driving

Have they gotten off lightly? The short answer is no.

Tom Lawrence provided a breath test reading of 58 micrograms of alcohol per 100ml breath and his teammate, Mason Bennett, a slightly higher one of 64. The legal limit is 35, so anyone under that does not commit an offence. The breath test reading is a very important part of sentencing drink driving offences, as we can see from the Sentencing Guidelines (which the court must consider):

From this, we can see that the Starting Point sentence for both was a Fine (“Band C” means 150% of your weekly income) and the range goes up to a Low-Level Community Order. Community Orders can be at three different levels; low, medium or high. For the ban from driving, the guidelines suggest from 12 to 22 months.

This is what the Judge had to use as his starting point. He would then have considered what made the offence worse; these are called ‘aggravating factors’. A serious accident, passengers being carried, injury caused and fleeing the scene are the obvious aggravating factors in this case. The Judge would then have considered factors that lower the seriousness (called ‘mitigating factors’) such as their guilty plea. Even when there are a lot of aggravating factors, the Court will usually only go to the top of the ‘range’ at the most, which in this case would be a Low-Level Community Order and a disqualification of 22 months.

The Judge would have also considered the other offence; failing to stop after an accident (even though they returned after 45 minutes). That is a serious offence itself and, given the injury caused to their teammate Richard Keogh, seemed to justify a Community Order as well.

Having imposed a Community Order with 180 hours of unpaid work, the Judge has imposed a High-Level Community Order which means that he has significantly increased the sentence from the starting point. By imposing a 24-month disqualification, the Judge did the same again. It’s also important to remember that both Tom Lawrence and Mason Bennett pleaded guilty and the Judge had to give them ‘credit’ for this. ‘Credit’ means he had to reduce the sentence he would have imposed by one third.

So, from this we can see that the Judge took a very serious view of the offences committed by Mr Lawrence and Mr Bennett and they certainly didn’t “get off lightly”…and that is coming from a Nottingham Forest fan!

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