'Unjust' bill means 11,000 per cent rise in prison time

By Derek Cheng

If Bruce Emery, who killed a tagger, had had two previous convictions under the proposed law he would be sentenced to life imprisonment. Photo / Greg Bowker
If Bruce Emery, who killed a tagger, had had two previous convictions under the proposed law he would be sentenced to life imprisonment. Photo / Greg Bowker

The proposed three strikes bill would be grossly unjust and could result in an 11,000 per cent rise in time spent in prisons, an independent organisation on crime says.

Rethinking Crime and Punishment director Kim Workman says the amended bill is worse than the original, because it means an offender who would receive a two-month sentence in today's court could be sentenced to decades in prison for the same offence under the new bill.

The law and order select committee is considering submissions on the amended Sentencing and Parole Reform Bill, which proposes a three strikes rule: a standard sentence after one strike, a sentence with no parole for the second strike, and the maximum sentence for the offence and no parole for the third.

The new bill has a list of offences that automatically qualify as strikes, replacing the five-year sentence threshold of the previous version.

Mr Workman said the five-year threshold would have provided a baseline for serious offending. But now the bill focuses sentencing "on a single factor (criminal history) and treats every instance of a qualifying offence as if they were of equal seriousness".

He pointed to the case of Leandro Andrade who, under the three strikes legislation in California, was sentenced to two 25-year sentences for stealing children's videos worth US$153.54 ($219.58) from two Kmart stores. They were his third and fourth strikes; his first two were home burglaries committed in 1983.

Mr Workman agreed with Justice Ministry advice that sentences under the three strikes rule would be 10 times what they would otherwise receive.

A person on a third strike who had committed a less serious case of aggravated robbery would receive the maximum 14-year sentence.

If he would have received a three-month sentence in the present system, and only served half of that in prison, then the time served under the proposed bill would be 112 times greater, or an 11,100 per cent increase.

"Every year there are offenders sentenced to terms around and even shorter than three months for what would be a third qualifying offence - increases of [11,100] per cent and more in time served would result from the proposed legislation.

"It is difficult to understand how that is not an injustice."

The committee will be considering a proposal from Police Minister Judith Collins that all charges qualifying as a third strike be referred to a Crown solicitor for review.

Of 1075 submissions to the original bill, only 32 opposed it. The committee is due to report back on March 30.

* Commits two relatively minor offences (street robbery, for example), then a more serious offence (aggravated robbery) but a minor case. Instead of five years, they get 14. No parole.
* Commits two different offences (indecent assault, wounding with intent) then is negligent resulting in a death (or drinks and drives, killing someone) and gets life without parole.
* Offender commits a minor offence (wounding with intent in a pub brawl), then murder (self-defence, provocation or mercy killing) and gets life without parole.
* Consider Bruce Emery's manslaughter conviction for chasing and stabbing a tagger. If he'd had two previous convictions from when he was younger and had reformed, he'd get life imprisonment.
* Two brothers kill their mother in a mercy killing because she has a terrible disease. One has no previous convictions and is paroled after a few years. The other has a previous strike and gets life with no parole.

- NZ Herald

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