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Israel: Supreme Court Approves Harsher Sentencing for Stealing Smart Phones

(July 31, 2015) On July 14, 2015, Israel’s Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, rejected an appeal of a sentence imposed on a person convicted of four robberies of minors 14 to 15 years of age involving smart phones. (CrimA 8627/14 Dvir v. State of Israel, STATE OF ISRAEL: THE JUDICIAL AUTHORITY (July 13, 2015) (in Hebrew).)

The Lower Court Sentence

The Central District Court sentenced the appellant to 36 months of actual imprisonment and 12 months of probationary imprisonment on condition that he would not commit any offenses involving violence or theft for a period of three years. In addition, the appellant was ordered to pay compensation to one of the victims who had been harmed in the course of the perpetrators’ escape from the scene of one of the robberies. (CrimA 8627/14 ¶ 2.)

The appellant had admitted that the robberies were conducted while he was driving a car and his accomplice snatched a cellular phone from each of the victims and that in one case, when he had started speeding to escape from the scene of the crime, his car door was open and it injured the victim. The appellant was accordingly convicted by the Central District Court of four offenses of serious robberies carried out by a group, under section 402(b) and 29 of the Penal Law, and of conspiring to commit a felony or misdemeanor and a crime under section 449(1-2) of that Law. (CrimA 8627/14 ¶ 1; Penal Law, 5737-1977, 1 LAWS OF THE STATE OF ISRAEL (Special Volume) 1977 (as amended).)

The Supreme Court’s View

According to Justice Isaac Amit, writing on behalf of the Supreme Court, the appellate court usually refrains from intervening in a sentence imposed by an adjudicating court, except in unusual cases of an “extreme deviation from sentencing policy or when there was a substantive error in the sentence.” (CrimA 8627/14, ¶ 4.) The circumstances in this case, Amit determined, did not present any such grounds. (Id.)

On the appropriateness of imposing a severe punishment for the theft of cellular phones, Amit opined:

Theft and burglary of a cellular phone is not the same as theft and burglary of money or other chattel. The smartphone has become a person’s good friend. … [I]n the cellular phone lies the life story of a person … containing significant moments and memories in the life of a person, along with information and essential details of his/her daily functions — photos of him/herself and of loved ones, addresses and telephone numbers of relatives and friends, a diary, reminders, a calendar, etc. Not every person protects himself/herself by backing up the content of the equipment in a cloud, and retrieval of the details is sometimes impossible and at times involves time and monetary resources. …

In addition to the loss of access [to these details] and the anxiety [that creates], the theft of a cellular phone constitutes an invasion of a person’s most private space … . A recent technological advance even transforms this cellular equipment into a means of payment called “a digital wallet,” which is gradually replacing hard credit cards. Even assuming that the average Israeli thief is not interested in the content [stored in] the cellular equipment, the knowledge that the theft might result in blackmail or in dissemination of personal and sensitive information is sufficient to increase the anxiety and the feeling of loss of control of the victim of the theft. … [This] indicates that theft and burglary of a cellular phone should not be viewed as a “regular” property offense, and this is [the reason for] the policy of [imposing] harsh penalties on such offenses.” (Id. ¶ 7.)

The Supreme Court therefore upheld the sentence.