Matthew Theunissen is a business reporter

'Blame Parliament, not judges'

People who criticise sentences do not understand law, says former judge.
Auckland District Court. Photo / Nick Reed
Auckland District Court. Photo / Nick Reed

A former judge has defended the home-detention sentence given to four teenagers.

Thursday's sentencing of Dylan Christie, Matthew McKenzie and Ethan Poole, all 19, and Robert Hales, 18, on multiple charges of burglary and theft has been met with a chorus of outrage.

Former Maori Affairs Minister Dover Samuels described it as "inadequate" and thousands of social media posts claimed the teens escaped a custody sentence because they were white.

The four stole boats, fishing gear, outboard motors and tools worth nearly $80,000 from coastal properties between September and December last year.

In the Whangarei District Court, Judge Duncan Harvey handed Christie and Hale the longest sentences, at 10 months, Poole received eight months and McKenzie seven.

They must do 300 hours' community work and pay reparation from nearly $12,800 to $20,950.

Talking to the Herald on Sunday, retired District Court judge Roy Wade said many of the people who criticised penalties meted out in courts were "unaware of the Sentencing Act's contents".

"Don't blame the judges, blame Parliament," Wade said.

The former judge said that under the Sentencing Act, home detention must be considered if the sentence would otherwise be two years' imprisonment or less, "regardless of the race of the offender".

"The reason it seems that fewer Maori and PI [Pacific Islander] offenders receive home detention is the home must be deemed suitable."

Things that could render a home unsuitable could include lack of cellphone coverage for electronic monitoring, the presence of another offender serving home detention and certain landlords, such as Housing New Zealand, who objected to electronically monitored sentences being served at their properties.

"The result may be that home detention is not available if the address is remote - such as in the Far North - if the offender has a sibling already serving such a sentence or if he/she lives in a rental property."

Samuels, a Northland Regional councillor, told the Herald on Sunday there was a widespread perception in the community the sentences for the four were too lenient.

"It sounds like they've been up to this sort of thing for a while and you only have to look at the sentencing of other young people, some of whom wouldn't have done things half as serious as what these guys did," he said.

"It certainly wasn't a sentence of deterrence, unless the judge knew more than what has been said publicly about it.

"I think the sentence was inadequate."

During his sentencing, Harvey told the quartet they offended for an adrenaline rush, not because they needed the money or because of an addiction.

They were "extraordinarily lucky" because if it weren't for the support of their families and lawyers they would have gone to jail.

- Herald on Sunday

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