Self-harming arson charges appealed

A Melbournian woman has successfully appealed her 4 year sentence, after being found guilty of setting fire to her own home. Her sentence has been amended to her 290 days served in prison already, after disputing the case due to her deteriorating mental condition while in confinement. Ms Jennifer Martin, 59 pleaded guilty in September 2014 to two charges of arson, after twice setting her living room ablaze. The representative for the respondent conceded that the appellant’s long history of mental health issues and tumultuous upbringing made the sentence “excessive in all circumstances”. Judge Maxwell elaborated that the initial offence could be called “hopeless”, as there was unlikely to be any viable insurance claim for the damages, and the appellant’s lack of apparent pyromania indicated little desire to cause public damages.

In the case of arson significant charges are usually levelled at the accused to act as a deterrent in order to protect the community at large. The psychiatric witness brought by the appellant categorised her crimes as different to intentionally lit bushfires, as in this scenario she was the only person likely to suffer as a consequence. Following a history of abuse as a child, self-harm and chronic injury sustained (in part) through community service efforts, the testimony provided by the a staff member of Corrections Victoria and a psychologist involved with Ms Martin in a separate case clearly demonstrated she had suffered more during her detainment than the average inmate. The decision to sustain her release and amend her sentence to time already served came as a culmination of these points, with both judges accepting that a community correction order would have been more appropriate to assist with the appellant’s ongoing psychological issues. It is notable that no further action was taken against Ms Martin; as it was felt that while community correction would likely be of benefit, the time already spent in custody offset any further punishment.

It is of note that prior to the original arson charges Ms Martin had been in dispute with police and her insurance provider over other property damage issues, allegedly self-inflicted and was having serious financial difficulties. Ms Martin also suffers from severe chronic pain in her head, neck, right arm and hip, after being hit with furniture whilst volunteering to assist disabled children and adults and is unable to work as a result. The present psychiatrist testified that depression did not aptly summarise Ms Martin’s psychiatric issues, nor do her suffering justice. Unfortunately no rehabilitation services are presently planned for the appellant, and it is unknown what conditions she will be returning to.


Court Case observed at Supreme Court of Victoria