Privileged Background Keeps Admitted Brawler Out of Jail

The judge agreed with defense lawyers that their client wouldn't fit in with the prison population

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An Australian man who was charged with assault after confessing to attacking a man at a Melbourne casino in April has avoided jail time after his lawyers successfully argued he was too privileged for prison. According to the Herald Sun, Liam Danial Sweeney, 27, a corporate lawyer, was fined $5000 and given an 18-month jail term, which was suspended for two years after his own attorney successfully argued that going to jail would detrimentally affect his client’s ability to practice law in the future.

Sweeney is the son of a prominent Melbourne barrister and attended a prestigious private high school. According to the Sun, the magistrate deciding the case, Jack Vandersteen, stated, “I don’t think he’d last very long [in jail].” He then added, “Not many people are in jail who went to Haileybury [private school] or who had your client’s privileged background.” Ian Hill QC, lawyer for Sweeney, then stated, “Or who look like him.”

Sweeney pleaded guilty to intentionally causing serious injury, which carries a maximum sentence of two years, according to the Sentencing Advisory Council of Victoria. He allegedly attacked Richard Huiswaard by “glassing” him, which involved smashing a wine glass in his face. He then punched him.

Prosecutors alleged that Sweeney was angered by the refusal of Mr. Huiswaard to shake his hand, which motivated the attack. However, the defense claimed that Mr. Huiswaard made comments about Sweeney’s mother, and said that he would “Go him,” which suggested he wanted to fight.

Australia’s justice system has long faced criticism for disproportionately incarcerating those from disadvantaged backgrounds. For example, more than 25 percent of the Australian prison population is made up of Indigenous Australians, despite the fact that they make up just 2.5 percent of the population, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.  In May, the Australian Red Cross called for a “radical overhaul of Australia’s justice system. It might start by reconsidering how Sweeney’s priviliged upbringing affected his sentencing.