Published: Tue, Jun 1st, 2010

While there is consensus over the fact that there is too much serious crime in New Zealand, debate has raged over whether the 'three strikes' legislation is the correct way forward.

The legislation lists over 36 offences, which are qualifying offences and count as a strike against the offender:

  • Strike one occurs when the offender commits the first qualifying offence. The offender will receive the standard sentence and a first warning.
  • Strike two occurs if the offender commits another qualifying offence. The offender must serve the sentence without parole and will receive a second warning.
  • Strike three occurs if the offender commits a third qualifying offence. The offender must be sentenced to the maximum sentence for that offence with no parole.

For murder and manslaughter the maximum sentence will be life imprisonment and under the legislation life will mean life (i.e. until the prisoner dies). For aggravated robbery, kidnapping, and attempted murder the maximum sentence will be 14 years, and for sexual violation 20 years. For the second and third strikes all of these sentences will be served without eligibility for parole. Preventative detention will still be available if a longer sentence is required.

It is anticipated that the new law will improve public safety by locking up offenders for a longer period and improve public confidence in the justice system. It is also hoped the new law will relieve victims of the stress of attending parole hearings, and the anxiety and uncertainty of not knowing when offenders will be released on parole.

Critics argue that the 'three strikes' law will take away judicial discretion and ignore the factors that should be considered when assessing sentencing such as premeditation, an early guilty plea, and an offender who is remorseful. Dr Richard Ekins, Senior Lecturer at Auckland University's Faculty of Law, has highlighted instances where inconsistencies may occur:

  • Two men who commit an unpremeditated aggravated street robbery would ordinarily receive a sentence of 18 months to 3 years. If one of the men has previously had two strikes then he has to be sentenced to 14 years in prison – the maximum penalty for aggravated robbery.
  • An armed robber, with no prior convictions, may brutally assault a victim while his accomplice, with two previous strikes, may be merely the getaway driver. In sentencing, the judge will have no discretion with the getaway driver – he will receive the maximum sentence with no parole while the armed robber may comparatively be punished less severely.

No doubt there will be ongoing debate about the merits and efficacy of the 'three strikes' law into the future. Watch this space for updates. 

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