A sentence of home detention for four Northland teenagers for a burglary spree totalling nearly $80,000 in stolen property has been met with outrage.
In Whangarei District Court Judge Duncan Harvey sentenced Dylan Christie, Matthew McKenzie and Ethan Poole, all 19, and Robert Hales, 18, to various stints of home detention, the longest being 10 months. They must do 300 hours' community work and pay reparation from nearly $12,800 to $20,950. Before their court appearance they had paid back some of the money owed and some of the stolen items were returned.
The four stole boats, fishing gear, outboard motors and tools worth nearly $80,000 from coastal properties late last year.
Former Maori Affairs Minister Dover Samuels told media the penalty was "inadequate", and thousands of social media posts claimed the teens escaped a custody sentence because they were white.
Comments left on the Northern Advocate website were similar in theme with most questioning the justice system and making the observation that if the offenders had been Maori or Pacific Islanders the most likely outcome would have been jail.
One reader wrote: "Sending them to jail would send a real message, not that if you have money you can buy your way out. If they were Maori I would bet they would be in jail. A set of rules for one and a set of rules for another. Justice stinks."
Another said: "If these were Maori youth they would be in the slammer. This was devious, repetitive, organised theft."
Mr Samuels, a Northland Regional councillor, said there was a widespread perception that the sentences 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."
But a retired judge has said Judge Harvey was only working within the law and Parliament was to blame.
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".
The former judge said under the Act, home detention must be considered if the sentence would otherwise be two years' jail or less, "regardless of the race of the offender".