There has been plenty of chat about the likelihood of Ben Stokes going to prison if he’s found guilty or pleads guilty. But it’s hard for us laymen to know whether a suspended sentence, three years, or something in between is most likely. Thankfully Robert Foster, a freelancer writer with a background in Criminal Justice, is here to explain all. Over to you, Rob …
After months of speculation regarding England and Durham all-rounder Ben Stokes appearing to knock a man unconscious, it has been confirmed he has now been charged with Affray.
If things weren’t bad enough after the less than perfect Ashes tour, there is now the very real prospect that Stokes is facing a period of imprisonment. But just how likely is it that one of the world’s leading cricket stars will be locked up?
Under UK law, Affray is a violent offence defined by the Public Order Act 1986. It’s a relatively new offence, introduced to deal with group-based brawls where three or more individuals are involved in a violent incident. It’s a criminal matter and it carries the very real prospect of a custodial sentence. Stokes’ case is set to be initially heard at Bristol Magistrates’ Court, where a decision will be made as to how the case proceeds.
Stokes could be tried in either a Magistrates’ Court or Crown Court. The seriousness of the allegation, combined with the high profile nature of the case, means a Crown Court appearance is more likely. The Crown Court has greater sentencing powers, meaning the potential sentence could easily exceed the six months maximum available to a bench of Magistrates. Once the appropriate Court has been decided, Stokes will be summonsed to Court in order to plead.
UK Courts typically offer a one-third discount on sentences following an immediate guilty plea. The incentive of a shorter sentence is designed to encourage offenders to come clean at the first opportunity, saving time and money in the long run. An early guilty plea also indicates remorse and acceptance of responsibility on the defendant’s part. Given the high quality CCTV footage, Stokes might consider it prudent to cut his losses and plead guilty at the first opportunity. However, he has publicly declared his intention to clear his name, suggesting he plans to take the case to trial before a jury.
If Stokes is found not guilty after trial, the ordeal comes to an end and he can get back to doing what he does best. If he pleads guilty, or is found guilty after trial, the Court will adjourn matters to decide on the most appropriate sentence, potentially assisted by the probation service.
The sentencing process is governed by a number of factors. The Judge will establish where the offence falls within Sentencing Council guidelines. These provide a framework to gauge the starting point and total range of sentence available to the Court. The Judge will weigh up aggravating and mitigating factors, the perpetrator’s intentions and the injuries caused. Allegations such as that facing Stokes are usually considered so serious that only a custodial sentence will suffice; the potential harm associated knocking a victim unconscious ordinarily means a prison sentence is inevitable. In this situation, Stokes could be facing a maximum of three years custody.
If the Court decide a custodial sentence is unavoidable, all is not lost for Stokes. Whilst the footage shows a serious assault taking place, it is not sustained and potential provocation cannot be ruled out. A sentence of between four and twelve months imprisonment is perhaps more realistic than the three years being touted by the press. Working on the assumption Stokes has no previous criminal convictions and is committed to engaging fully with interventions to prevent a recurrence of such behaviour, the Judge will be more likely to suspend this period of imprisonment. If subject to a Suspended Sentence Order, Stokes would walk out of Court but would be bound by the threat of immediate imprisonment if he committed any further offence, or failed to engage with any requirements set out by the Judge.
Speculation over Stokes’ fate will be rife, but the chances of an immediate custodial sentence are slim. Some might consider a community sentence a let off given his position as a role model, but most would agree that prison will hold little benefit for Stokes, the taxpayer or, perhaps more significantly, the England board of selectors. It’s a close call, but the Umpire’s verdict…not out!
Rob Foster is a blogger and content writer who is always on the lookout to broaden his horizons and forge new working links. If you like what you see, get in touch at email@example.com and see what he can do for you.
Aren’t gingers kept under house arrest as a matter of course?
Being ginger, and being the son of a rugby league player, and an (adopted) Northern-England all-rounder (cough pedalo Fred cough) – sure-fire recipe for drunken “antics” ;)
Ironically enough, Stokes’ father has moved from coaching RL to a role in the NZ criminal justice system working with young offenders
Mmm.. Rather odd but not unexpected nonsense again from the ECB.
First he us not picked pending whether or not he is going to be charged.
Second he’s allowed to play in NZ
Third, now he’s been charged with affray he has been picked to play for England!
Lastly the ECB’s ‘logic’ of he’s been waiting long enough really does smack of the idiocy of the people running this so called organisation.
The scary thing about this is the ECB suspended him whilst not charged with anything, yet are proposing to let him play after he has been charged. Makes about as much sense as Trump’s non racist twitter.
Personally I feel he should have been suspended until the whole thing had run its course. He is clearly guilty of an assault related offence and will be charged and sentenced. You can’t go around being filmed smacking people who are no threat to you and claim mitigating circumstances, then expect to clear your name. Whoever is advising him seems a ‘cloud cuckoo’ to me.
He would get more respect accepting his punishment for being an idiot and knuckling down to rebuild his career. Everyone is an idiot at times. It’s a very human trait and as long as we learn from it there’s no shame.
Only in the ECB’s world could being charged with a criminal offence trigger the lifting of a ban!
I believe the rationale is that this could take at least a year to come to trial.
Given the presumption of innocence, the loss of a significant portion of his career could not be undone, should he be found innocent, if and when it comes to trial.
Why they didn’t figure this out prior to the Australia trip, I cannot explain.
At his age a year will not disrupt his career unduly. He should have thought about this sort of scenario before taking the law into his own hands.
What’s the point of playing him for a few matches and then having to do without him for a while once sentenced. His head cannot possibly be right for international sport at the moment, look at his form for Canterbury, does this justify consideration for selection? Let’s get used to life without him. No one is indispensable. The problem is with Ben he is irreplaceable at present and the balance of the side is clearly affected. This is obviously high on the ECB agenda, following the Ashes debacle, though it should not interfere with the more important course of natural justice.
There was me thinking that a suspended sentence might involve hanging. I jest.
I’m not expecting anything sensible or logical to emerge from this mess.
I agree – if it was you or I, I would be expecting a custodial sentence. I’m sure there is precedent in this type of case, so I wonder what happened in that instance.
If the ECB were smart, they might encourage (or tell him as his employer) for him to attend a anger management course.
It is well known (and documented) that Stokes is a hot head out on the field, easily baited and wound up – why, given it is so obvious to one and all, that the ECB (don’t they have psychologists within the team?) or his agent didn’t have the foresight to see that there is a volcano within and will blow at any time, which unfortunately it did.
Some of you may recall an article in the Times Weekend magazine of a featured interview with Stokes the week before the Bristol incident. In the article he tells us of his battle with his temperament, but he has calmed down, seen himself as a role model and leader within the group and after the birth of his children, he has matured and happy where is mind and game is.
Nice one Ben, once a hot headed Kiwi, always a hot headed Kiwi and I hope you feel the error of your ways in due course. Prison won’t hurt you, you will look after yourself inside sure enough, but you will come out a better man. Give Tony Adams a call, he can tell you all about it – perhaps he will/should become your role model, because those boneheads like Alex Hales and the other two thugs you were with that night certainly aren’t.
I’m kind of hoping that he gets convicted and receives a suspended sentence so that he can return to the English cricket team ASAP.
Then we can start calling that team “the convicts.”
Excellent article. Gives a different perspective on the Ben Stokes saga. The ECB should have a read!
Thanks Paul, glad you enjoyed it! Will be interesting to see how the Court deal with this relatively high profile case. Same applies to the ECB’s reaction post sentence…could raise eyebrows. I’d just like to thank James @the full toss for the opportunity to contribute to this fantastic blog. Watch this space, more Stokes updates to follow!
No problem Rob. Delighted to have your input. Thanks.
As usual because he’s famous and got money he will get away with it. Already people are jumping on the wagon of ‘he’s so good, he will change England’s fortunes’
He is a decent player but massively over rated.. avg what ?? 35 with the bat ??
In terms of ‘getting away with it’, a suspended sentence for an Affray of this nature, with no previous convictions, is a good benchmark for the average man in the street. Will be interesting to see how Stokes’ sentence compares, if guilt is established. Perhaps he could be treated more harshly to set an example to the public??
IF, as it appeared in the short video of his punch, he was defending another human being from a man threatening with a bottle; then he should get a medal, not punishment!
Has the man with the bottle been charged?
And the ECB”s reaction was a disgrace with no charge being brought at the time! what happened to “innocent until proven guilty”?
Stokes in not your average man on the street. He was not defending anyone and not-one else appeared to be be physically threatening anyone else. Stokes was drunk and out of control. His high profile, his manner and the physical violence he used should warrant an immediate custodial sentence.
You can bet though that his money and contacts will lead to a suspended sentence.