County Court judge queries prosecutor's sentencing bid

A County Court judge has confronted a prosecutor about inconsistent sentencing recommendations from the Crown.

Judge Lance Pilgrim questioned Peter Jones’s sentencing submissions in the case of Matthew Rowe, currently being heard in the Victorian County Court sitting in Bendigo.

Mr Jones submitted that a two- to three-year head sentence, with a non-parole period of 18 months to two years, would be appropriate for Rowe, who had been found guilty of dangerous driving causing death.

But Judge Pilgrim said he was “surprised” by that submission.

He referenced the recent case of Brandon McCraw, who faced the same charge and was sentenced on Monday to three years and six months’ jail.

Mr Jones had called for a head sentence of four- to five-years in that case, and a non-parole period of two to three years.

“That’s a significant difference,” Judge Pilgrim said.

“I think you should discuss that with whoever gave you these instructions.

“I don’t want to be misquoted here, but your instructions are not consistent, with respect.”

Judge Pilgrim indicated that he was concerned the disparity might leave McCraw questioning the severity of his sentence. But Mr Jones said the two cases had a different set of circumstances, with the McCraw case involving alcohol.

He said the two submissions had also come from different prosecutors.

“That sometimes happens and it’s a matter for your honour to decide,” he said.

Rowe was driving his mate Heath Tootell to a friend’s house in Woorinen, near Swan Hill, in July 2009 when he lost control of his car. Mr Tootell was killed instantly in the crash. Rowe was also injured and still has no memory of the incident.

In court yesterday, Rowe’s lawyer Stephen Payne asked Judge Pilgrim to wholly suspend any term of imprisonment his client faced.

Mr Payne said Rowe, now 25 and living in Western Australia, had two children to support.

He argued that his client’s offending was “at the lower end of criminality” and he was a good prospect of rehabilitation. But Mr Jones said general deterrence was also important.

“This type of offence is something the public is very concerned about,” he said.

“At the end of the day this is a collision that just should not have occurred and can only be said to have occurred because of the dangerous speed the accused was driving.”

Rowe will be sentenced at 10am today.

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