STATE OF TASMANIA v JAKE JOHN SUSHAMES                        24 AUGUST 2023

COMMENTS ON PASSING SENTENCE                                                         JAGO J

Mr Sushames, you have been found guilty by a jury of four counts of Criminal Code assault.  These charges were found as alternate verdicts to a primary charge of persistent family violence.  You were found not guilty of the primary charge.  Given the jury were satisfied more than three of the specified occasions relied upon by the State to constitute the crime occurred, the logical conclusion is that the jury were not satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that you and the complainant were in a significant relationship.  That determination is consistent with my evaluation of the evidence.  It is also clear from the verdicts that the jury, in substance, accepted the complainant as an honest and reliable witness.  I am also of that opinion.  I accept there were some specified occasions about which the jury were not satisfied, but the verdicts indicate that in substance, the jury must have been satisfied that she gave an honest and reliable account of the critical events.  It is, of course, my task to find facts for sentencing purposes consistent with the jury verdicts.  I may only make findings adverse to you if satisfied beyond reasonable doubt they have been proved, and I may only make findings of fact in your favour if they are proved on the balance of probabilities.  My findings of fact are informed by my acceptance of the complainant’s evidence as to the four occasions upon which the guilty verdicts were returned.

You met the complainant in early 2020.  The relationship ended on 21 July 2020.  It was a relatively short lived relationship.  Shortly after meeting the complainant, the relationship became sexual.  The complainant also moved into your residence.  She was, at that point, without stable accommodation.  The evidence suggested that this was a temporary arrangement.  Her children would sometimes stay at the unit with you and her.  At other times, they would be with other family members.  Whilst this was not a significant relationship within the meaning of the relevant legislation, it was certainly an intimate relationship in which you and the complainant spent considerable periods of time together, and at times shared finances.

The complainant’s evidence was that the relationship started well, but soon deteriorated.  You exhibited controlling behaviour and angry outbursts from an early point in time.  The first incident of assault occurred shortly after the complainant had moved into your unit.  You became angry about some messages you had observed on her phone.  You began verbally abusing the complainant and damaging property within the unit.  The prosecution alleged, in respect to this first occasion, that you took possession of a firearm and pointed it at her, as well as physically assaulting her.  The jury found you not guilty of aggravated assault but guilty of assault.  I will sentence on the basis of only the physical assault.  I cannot be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt as to the presence of the firearm.

In any event, as you became increasingly angry about the text messages, you punched the complainant in her face.  It caused an abrasion near her  eye brow.  You also scratched her face, causing it to bleed.  I am also satisfied that you made a number of verbal threats to the complainant during this incident, including saying things like “I should take you down to the shed and let the boys go at you”.  Such comments were clearly degrading and demeaning.

The complainant tried to leave the unit.  You prevented her from doing so.  You insisted she have sexual intercourse with you.  She reluctantly agreed to do so.  This is reflective of the attitude of control you displayed towards the complainant during the relationship generally.  You continued to show aggression towards her after the sexual intercourse.  At one stage when you had your back to her, she ran from the unit and went to her mother’s residence.  She was distressed upon arrival.  She contacted police but did not follow through with making a statement to them as she was scared and confused.

The second assault also occurred at your unit.  Both you and the complainant had been drinking.  There was an argument about the text messages you had earlier seen.  You became verbally abusive.  The complainant tried to leave the unit, but you grabbed her by the hair and pulled her back into the unit and prevented her from leaving.  As you dragged her back inside, you pulled her to the ground.  This happened in the presence of her two young children, who were crying and upset.  Shortly after, the complainant again left the unit and you followed her.  You punched her to the head area and face area when she was outside.  She fell to the ground  and landed in a bush area.  Again, the children were outside and saw this.  You dragged her back into the unit.  The children followed, obviously upset.  That did not cause you to reflect on what you were doing, instead your violence continued.  Once back inside the unit, you punched her to the face.  She fell to the ground.  You proceeded to stomp on her head.  You did this on four to five occasions.  Your Counsel submitted I should not be satisfied as to this aspect of the assault, essentially because of the absence of grievous injury.  I am satisfied beyond reasonable doubt the stomping occurred.  The complainant’s evidence about this aspect was compelling and, in my view, believable.  You impacted the side of her head near her ear.  Whilst she was on the ground, you also punched her to the face.  She was bleeding from a split on her forehead and from her ear.

The complainant was very dazed and was drifting in and out of consciousness.  At one point she heard you talking to somebody on the phone.  You said “I fucked up.  Come and get me”.  You then left the unit.  You returned the following morning and convinced her not to report the assault to police.  Your violence left the complainant with a badly swollen face and bruising around the eye area.  When she later attended her child’s school, a teacher observed her with an excessive amount of carefully applied make up on and marks to her face.  This evidence corroborates the complainant’s account.

Some weeks later, the third assault occurred.  You came home to the unit.  You were initially in a good mood, although intoxicated.  A conversation arose about the complainant apparently communicating with a fellow member of your motor cycle club.  You became irate and began to break and destroy items within the unit.  You pulled the complainant onto a bed.  You wrapped a t-shirt around her neck and pulled it tight.  You held it like that for what seemed to her to be a couple of minutes.  Whilst I cannot definitively say it was that time frame, I am satisfied you held it in that position for some time.  The complainant struggled to breathe.  You then removed the t-shirt and placed both of your hands onto her neck and began to choke her.  Again, you squeezed hard.  The complainant was unable to breathe and she bit her tongue.  She passed out.  When she regained consciousness, you again choked her.  You repeated this behaviour on several occasions.  At one point, you said to her “Die bitch, just fucking die”.  Eventually you stopped.  The complainant pretended she had been on the phone to her mother before you started choking her and convinced you to allow her to use the phone to tell her mother that she was fine.  She, in fact, alerted her mother to what was happening.  You punched the phone from her hand.  Her mother and brother came to the unit and she left with them.  The complainant contacted police from her mother’s home.

The fourth count of assault of which you were convicted was, in fact, the fifth occasion relied upon by the State.  This was the last incident that occurred between you and the complainant. It happened at your unit on 21 July 2020.  You became angry because you could not find some mouthwash.  The complainant was in the bedroom with her children.  You began to abuse the complainant and lent into her face and bit the tip of her nose.  You also bit the tip of her ear.  Whilst I am satisfied these bites occurred, I find they were not particularly hard and no injury was occasioned as a consequence.  You told the complainant to find the mouthwash.  She began looking for it.  As she was walking around the unit searching, you followed closely behind her.  At one point, you approached her and placed your hands around her throat and lifted her from the ground.  She could not breathe and was gasping for air.  You then placed her back down before lifting her up by the throat again.  You did this about three times. Each time her breathing was affected.

The complainant had a bad injury to her hand from where she had earlier cut it with a knife.  You threatened to squeeze it and also to cause damage to her other hand.  This was indicative of the nasty and intimidating behaviour that you displayed towards the complainant.  Eventually, the complainant pretended she needed to change her child’s bottom.  When she went to place the nappy in the bin, she ran from the residence.  She ran to a nearby service station and sought assistance.  You followed her to the service station in your motor vehicle and as you drove by, you said to her “Are you really fucking doing this…’re finished”.

The complainant suffered a number of injuries as a result of these various assaults including significant bruising, swelling and general soreness.  I have received an impact statement from her, which sets out the serious and ongoing psychological and emotional effects of the conduct she experienced at your hands.  What she describes is consistent with the fear, confusion and uncertainty so often experienced by persons who are the victims of violent conduct in an intimate relationship.  Your degrading and belittling conduct towards the complainant left her with feelings of worthlessness, shame and fear.

You are 35 years of age.  Prior to your incarceration you were unemployed, but in the past have had periods of employment in the vegetable processing industry.  You are hopeful that upon your ultimate release you may be able to return to such employment.  You have a long standing history of illicit substance abuse.  You were abusing drugs regularly during your relationship with the complainant.  You have some relevant prior convictions.  In 2011, you were convicted of common assault.  It must have been a relatively serious incident because even though at that time you had no prior convictions for assault, you were sentenced to three months’ imprisonment, the execution of which was wholly suspended.  I note you subsequently breached the terms of that suspended sentence.  In 2012, you were convicted of two further counts of common assault and a count of destroy property.  You were sentenced globally with other matters to a five month period of imprisonment.  You also have a number of prior convictions for driving offences and have been sent to gaol for such offending.

The violence you perpetrated upon the complainant was serious and, although the relationship was not a particularly long one, it was characterised by your angry outbursts and violence.  The repeated and persistent acts of strangulation were particularly concerning.  Your behaviour could easily have resulted in serious injury or death. The blows to the head also carried with them a high risk of serious injury.  Your crimes against the complainant were degrading and dangerous, and were often accompanied by threats and emotional manipulation.  Your conduct on two of the occasions is aggravated by the presence of children.  The children witnessed what you were doing to their mother and it caused them upset.  You showed no regard for their well-being at all.  It is well understood that exposing a child to violence in their formative years can have a terrible adverse impact upon them.

Violence within intimate relationships, often occurring behind closed doors and accompanied by emotional manipulation, is never acceptable.  It simply must be condemned and punished by the courts in an endeavour to dissuade others from behaving in a similar fashion. General deterrence and denunciation are primary sentencing considerations.  I am also satisfied, given your history and lack of insight into the severity of your behaviour, that personal deterrence is also a relevant sentencing consideration.  There is nothing which mitigates your moral culpability.  You have not demonstrated any remorse and you are not entitled to the benefit of a plea of guilty.  The only possible sentence is a significant term of imprisonment.

You are convicted of all matters to which you have been found guilty.  I will impose a single sentence.  You are sentenced to two years and eight months’ imprisonment, backdated to commence on 20 July 2023 to take into account time already served in custody.  I order that you not be eligible for parole until you have served one-half of that sentence of imprisonment.