What are the Penalties and Defences for an Offensive Conduct Charge in NSW?

By Sahar Adatia and Jimmy Singh


It’s not uncommon that drinking alcohol can have all kinds of effects on your social behaviour – the sense of sudden liberation that might push you to increase your self-disclosure; an urge to do something adventurous; a flooding of feeling forthcoming that makes you want to hug strangers.

But not for Jarrah Isis Rose Ladner, who earlier this year in May, hurled verbal abuse, launched cans of soft drink and even threw EFTPOS machines at staff working at an Adelaide KFC restaurant, in a bewildering drunken outburst.

And while the 21-year-old pleaded guilty in the Adelaide Magistrates Court on Thursday to seven charges of offensive conduct over the tirade, including aggravated assault of a police officer, disorderly behaviour and resisting arrest, she also managed to avoid jail.

The court heard Ladner entered the Hindley Street store at 9:30pm on May 11 appearing drunk and placed an order of chicken wings. However, she was too intoxicated to provide money for the food.

According to KFC staff on shift that night, Ladner became enraged and began yelling at staff, eventually hurling objects at them in her agitation, including three EFTPOS machines and a 24-pack of soft drink cans.

She started muddling around on her mobile phone before calling the cashier a “c***” numerous times and even spitting on her.

Ladner was ultimately restrained by the staff, despite continuing to swear and trying to escape from their hold. Police were then called to the fast-food outlet to try to control the young woman. Nevertheless, when they arrived, she spat at an officer’s face and managed to slip free from her handcuffs before attempting to run away.

The prosecution told the court that Ladner was exceptionally argumentative towards the police officers, and as she was seated into the back of a paddy wagon, spat on one of them once again.

The peculiar rampage was captured on video – in which she can be seen launching EFTPOS machines, one of which smashed a television screen – and went viral on social media, viewed by tens of thousands of people online.

Not Ladner’s “finest moment in life” but also a “blessing in disguise”

According to Ladner’s defence lawyer, Michael Woods, while the incident was undoubtedly not his client’s “finest moment in life,” it in fact helped Ladner to turn her life around in accepting that her behaviour was horrendous and unacceptable.

Speaking of the bizarre tirade, Woods depicted the incident as a “blessing in disguise” because it urged the young lady to both face and reach out for help for her alcohol addiction and borderline personality disorder.

“She has stopped drinking and hasn’t touched alcohol since, with her underlying mental illness … that’s one of the catalysts or triggers that brings out the ‘Bad Jarrah’ as one might put it,” he said.

Woods also said his client deteriorated against “significant embarrassment” following the video of the incident being posted to social media.

“After the incident, she had to cut her Facebook, shut it down, because she was abused by trolls and members of the public,” he said.

“In some respects, that is a punishment in itself, being in the public eye and feeling the wrath of people, often unfiltered on these computer communications.

“She felt the wrath of many, many people. It was an eye-opened for her.”

Ladner Makes Full Apology to KFC and Police

Woods also told the court that Ladner had made a wholehearted apology to KFC and police.

“It was an extremely genuine apology for her behaviour,” he said.

In addition, Woods made known that Ladner underwent a challenging upbringing, during which she became addicted to alcohol and on occasions even drank three bottles of wine a day.

Throughout the hearing, Ladner looked down and fought back tears.

In a post later shared on Facebook, speaking of her atrocious behaviour that proved the catalyst for her change, Ladner wrote: “It was time for me to get my life in check, stop drinking, I can’t go on like this anymore.

“Alcohol is a drug and it’s time for me to make a change and go back to the gentle girl who was once me.”

Ladner then shared reflection that life has not been an easy one for her and that everyone makes mistakes, finally imparting that “now is my opportunity to turn it around and make it the best life and best me I can.”

Ladner’s Prison Term gets Suspended

While Magistrate Brett Dixon imposed a prison sentence on Ladner of two months and 24 days, he ultimately agreed to suspend it in light of her commitment to rehabilitation, and did so on the condition that the young lady adhere to an 18-month good behaviour bond.

“Whilst the offending is serious and demonstrates the total loss of control by you and would have been a terrifying ordeal for those employees of the KFC store and anyone in the vicinity of that KFC store, I must not lose sight of what you have done since the incident to affect your own rehabilitation,” Magistrate Dixon said.

He also expressed that while the rampage cannot be pardoned on the basis of Ladner’s drinking problem, it does give some explanation to the motives behind why she acted the way she did.

“Although that is of little comfort to the victims of your offences, it is something that the court can keep in mind when one looks at what you have done since,” he said.

“If you are able to abstain from using alcohol and address your mental health issues then the prospects of you becoming involved in future offending are very low indeed.”

The court heard KFC was seeking more than $5,000 in damages, however, no formal order for compensation was made.

So, What Exactly is Offensive Conduct?

Offensive conduct refers to a wide-ranging offence that is often charged when it is hard for police to prosecute a more precise offence. This charge extends from alleged assaults to verbal abuse, to behaviour that is simply “anti-social”. As the aforementioned case of Jarrah Isis Rose Ladner reflects, offensive conduct can also include being drunk and disorderly.

In NSW, offensive conduct is a frequently prosecuted crime.

Police are also able to deal with cases of offensive conduct by issuing a fine on the spot.

The law and Penalties for offensive conduct in NSW

In NSW, the offence of offensive conduct is outlined in Section 4 of the Summary Offences Act 1988.

In NSW offence conduct carries a penalty of up to 3 months imprisonment or/and $660 fine. This results in a criminal record unless you plead guilty and receive a section 10 dismissal from the Court.

Offensive conduct is if you behaved in such a way that would wound the feelings, arouse anger, disgust, resentment or outrage to a reasonable person’s mind either within view or hearing or near a public place (or school).

Defences to Offensive Conduct

You will be not guilty if any of the following defences to an offensive conduct charge applies:

  • Your conduct was expressions of political opinion.
  • Where your behaviour alleged to be ‘offensive conduct’ isn’t considered to cause a reasonable person in today’s society outrage, disgust, resentment, anger, or wound a reasonable person’s feelings (a reasonable person is considered not to be thin-skinned).
  • You acted in self-defence.

If pleading guilty to a charge of offensive conduct, see our character reference examples on preparing character letters for the Judge or Magistrate.

About Criminal Defence Lawyers Australia

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