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 firstname.lastname@example.org and see what he can do for you.