Reformed drug addict’s one-year jail term reduced to suspended sentence on appeal

Court of Appeal hears how former drug addict, who breached probation order's terms, had finally taken steps to tackle substance abuse problem

A reformed drug addict who had previously breached the terms of his probation order, following a conviction for attempted theft, has had his one-year prison term reduced to a suspended sentence on appeal.

Matthew Abela, 36, had been handed down a three-year probation order and a €100 fine, after he admitted to having, with an accomplice, attempted to steal from a car whilst armed with a pointed weapon.

Two years down the line, Abela, who had a serious substance abuse problem, had not shown he had made sufficient efforts to change his ways, having missed several appointments with his probation officer and failed to abide by court orders.

His assigned supervisor was forced to report his unruly behaviour, landing him back in court.

The court which presided over his case had heard Abela’s probation officer explain how, behind the accused’s behaviour, was “his great drug problem”, which prevented him from seeking gainful employment.

The case had been adjourned on a number of occasions, to obtain further information on how he was progressing. Despite the chances the accused was given, his probation officer later reported that he had only kept three out of eight scheduled appointments, had supplied a sole urine sample, and had even tested positive for cocaine.

In light of this, the court had concluded that the accused “clearly showed that he was not truly interested in accepting help to tackle his problems, in his own interest and that of society,” and sentenced him to an effective term of one year in prison.

It was this which finally seemed to have had an effect on Abela, giving rise to efforts on his part to mend his ways. He contacted the Community Service Outreach and enrolled in a drug rehabilitation programme, successfully completing it as appeal proceedings were pending.

The Court of Appeal, presided over by Judge Giovanni Grixti, noted how the appellant had managed to keep up regular attendance for weekly meetings with his supervisors, showing “noticeable progress”.

Judge Grixti, acknowledging that Abela had previously missed “a golden opportunity” to reform, given to him by the first court, which had gone over and above its duty to help him, said that it was now time for the man to start afresh, and cut himself off from his previous wrongdoings.

The court therefore declared that the man deserved another chance, and converted his effective one-year prison term to a one-year term, suspended for one year.

Lawyer Arthur Azzopardi was defence counsel.

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