Guilty, but no convictions

By Jimmy Ellingham

Eight escape having a blot on their record.
Bill Hodge
Bill Hodge

Eight people who admitted or were found guilty of "homicide or related offences" avoided convictions when they appeared in court last year.

The revelation was contained in new figures released by the Ministry of Justice under the Official Information Act.

The eight were among more than 2000 discharged without conviction in 2014/15, including high-profile cases of sportspeople escaping a blot on their criminal record because of the impact on their career.

Over the previous decade, only five people who admitted or were found guilty of "homicide and related offences" were discharged, three in 2013/14 and two in 2004/5.

Among last year's discharges was the case of a Whanganui woman who admitted manslaughter after she left her 16-month-old toddler in the car on a hot summer's day. The boy died of heat stroke and dehydration.

The infant's mother, who was tired from working long hours, thought she had taken him to day care.

University of Auckland associate law professor Bill Hodge had no problem with some discharges being handed to people found guilty or admitting such offending, saying it should be an option on the "menu" of sentences available.

It was appropriate in cases such as the Whanganui one or where a person might have otherwise faced charges under transport or maritime law. A ministry spokesman said "homicide and related offences" included murder, attempted murder, manslaughter and driving causing death.

"In the 2013/14 and 2014/15 years, nine of the 11 charges involve operating a vehicle, either on or off a road, causing death.

"The remaining two involve charges where a child died while in the care of an adult. Due to suppression orders, the ministry is unable to provide further information about these two cases," the spokesman said.

Hodge has been an outspoken critic of athletes and other celebrities getting discharges because it created a "two-tier" justice system.

"Discharges should be available equally, regardless of your career, whether you're a builder, a plumber or an apprentice."

In one well-publicised cased, a prominent comedian with name suppression was initially discharged in 2011 after admitting performing a sex act on his 4-year-old daughter.

The judge caused an outcry when she said when weighing up her decision the man "makes people laugh".

After an appeal by the Crown, the comedian was convicted and sentenced to home detention.

Tony Fisher, the ministry's district courts general manager, said discharges could be granted unless the law specified a minimum sentence for an offence. "A discharge without conviction is deemed to be acquittal, which means the defendant has no record of the charge on his or her criminal record."

However, they might be ordered to undertake counselling or pay reparation, Fisher said.

- Herald on Sunday

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