Joelle Dally’s reporting on the bashing Caroline Courtney received in a road rage incident gives the impression that the justice system has failed. The article depicts an innocent woman who was assaulted “out of nowhere” by a smirking weapon-welding attacker, resulting in her having three months off work recovering from a fractured skull and still suffers from headaches and impaired hearing and vision. In contrast, the attacker Cotter-Brown should have received three years in prison or hospitalization only received a “slap on the wrist”; four months home detention and a fine. His mother’s only statement to the press was that the family were “victims in this too.”
The article seems to play down Cotter-Brown’s potential mental illness by making idle references that he might have an autistic condition from two or three prior skateboarding accidents that resulted in head injuries. There is also the inference of him going to HillmortonHospital (that specialises in mental health), and the judge ordering Cotter-Brown to undertake “psychiatric and psychological assessments”. The last comment was the victim Caroline saying; “He needs serious psychological help.”
So, does Cotter-Brown have a mental illness? Was the sentence too light as the reporter and victim indicate? How is it that the first judge’s assessment that Cotter-Brown would get three years in prison or hospitalization be so different than the second judge who only ordered four months home detention, a fine and mental health assessments?
Perhaps the attacker’s sentence really is a joke, or perhaps there’s more to the story that what has been presented by the journalist? The issue this raises is the disconnection between psychology and law. Perhaps it’s time to empower forensic psychologists and lawyers to be able to challenge a judge’s decision from court in a similar manner as academics challenge published papers. I think public scrutiny would allow more interest and pressure in evolving the legal system – encouraging the system to fully incorporate that which is currently shunned as “taking too long” – which could also encourage the closest form of common truth we can come to.
After a break I’ve revisited this article and have found that – having absorbed more of the context around psychology in this setting – I’m pulling different information from it. One of these insights I gleaned was asking a better question of myself; what (relevant) issues were raised in this article?
One of the issues that rose from the text is that of justice, and the apparent lack of fair justice in this example. According to Hudson (2002), the new definition to describe today’s justice is actually punishment, which could be why there the victim in the article is calling the sentence a joke – there wasn’t any real punishment in their eyes, therefore, no justice.
The next issue that I noted was – due to such dissatisfaction with the victim – was there the possibility of Victim / Offender Mediation? If the victim had been involved with the initial sentencing perhaps there would have been an opportunity for the victim to show some kind of remorse – although Arrigo & Shipley (2005) suggest that mediations like this would normally only occur if there is a chance to avoid a conviction. There is also the idea that – due to the offender’s smirk during the attack – they may not show the emotions and remorse the victim would require for closure.
The last issue is one that I hadn’t even considered previously – the affect and stress that can be inflicted upon the offenders’ family. Arrigo & Shipley (2005) discuss the trauma that can occur within police families over violence, and I’ve now opened my eyes as to just how detrimental the stress from the arrest, media attention, and conviction would be to the overall family unit.
“Attacker’s sentence a ‘joke’”
Stuff.co.nz, Bike Lock Bashing: Attacker’s Sentence A ‘Joke’. Retrieved July 20, from http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/crime/7313033/Attackers-sentence-a-joke