Offender discharges drop in Northland

By Cassandra Mason

1 comment
Photo / File
Photo / File

The number of Northland offenders escaping conviction is dropping, new figures reveal.

Ministry of Justice figures released to the Northern Advocate show Northland courts discharged 81 people without conviction in 2013, down from 107 the previous year and 123 in 2011.

The majority of offences were for "acts with intent to injure", followed by traffic offences and "dangerous or negligent" acts that put people in danger.

In the past three years, people in Northland also escaped convictions for sexual assault, fraud, prohibited weapons and theft, the figures show.

Of the 81 discharges, 51 of the accused were male, 28 were female and two were recorded as "unknown". A single discharge for homicide last year was given to an 85-year-old man charged with careless driving causing death.

Whangarei criminal defence lawyer Aaron Dooney said discharges without conviction were "very infrequent".

"It's fairly special advocation that has to be made, it's not run-of-the-mill or something that you take on lightly," Mr Dooney said.

Qualifying for a discharge was incredibly difficult.

"The media jump on it like it's something that's easy but it's not," he said.

Mr Dooney didn't know why the number of discharges without conviction in Northland could be dropping.

The number of people discharged without conviction nationally also dropped from 3185 in 2011 to 2720 in 2012, to 2199 last year.

Last month, Maori King Tuheitia's son, Korotangi Paki, 19, made headlines when he was let off charges of burglary, theft and drink driving after his defence counsel successfully argued a conviction would ruin his chances of succeeding to the throne.

In the High Court in Auckland earlier this month, Justice Helen Winkelmann decided not to convict the teen who assaulted 15-year-old West Auckland schoolboy Stephen Dudley before his death on June 6 last year.

Sensible Sentencing Trust national spokeswoman Ruth Money said while the number had come down, more discharges were being granted for "inappropriate" crimes such as assault and drink driving causing injury.

"Frequently we have victims coming through to us saying 'I was the victim in this case, how could this happen?' We are certainly being overwhelmed with what we would classify as unwarranted discharges."

She said it was difficult to get a grip on the real crime rate given the number of plea bargains and "alternative actions" by police.

Districts Courts general manager Tony Fisher said a judge had the ability to grant a discharge without conviction under the 2002 Sentencing Act, unless there was a minimum sentence specified for the offence.

- APNZ

- Northern Advocate

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