Monday, June 25, 2012

Should NZ adopt a cumulative sentencing policy...

Concurrent Sentencing is in effect a 'bulk-discount' for the number of crimes committed; the more crimes committed the bigger the discount given.

Convicted murder and career criminal William Johansson is a classic example, 145 years total sentence but ultimately given to a non-parole sentence of 23 years.

In my opinion concurrent sentencing – like parole and bail – is being used as a fiscal tool to reduce the period of time an offender spends in prison.

Last year over 5000 accused people (many with previous convictions) breached their bail conditions, some violently and some taking the opportunity of going on a crime rampage knowing full well any additional sentence would be minimal. It is worth noting the Police opposed bail in many cases.

Concurrent Sentencing is the type most commonly used in New Zealand. This is where separate sentences are handed down for each offence committed by an offender - but they are all served simultaneously or together.

Cumulative Sentencing is where all the sentences that an offender may get at any one time for a series of offences are served end-on-end. (A price for every crime committed – no freebies)

Good examples that demonstrate the difference in outcomes are the sentences handed down for Ese Junior Falealii. Pleading guilty to eleven charges he was sentenced as follows; two murders at 17 year minimum sentence each. One attempted murder at 8 years 9 months. Eight aggravated robberies at 7 years 9 months each. A total of 104 years.

However he is serving all these sentences concurrently rather than end on end. All offences and sentences have been rolled together into a 17 non-parole sentence – meaning a 'bulk-discount' of approx 84 years depending on when [not if] he gets parole!

As mentioned above William Johansson was given a life sentence with a 23 year non-parole period for two counts of murder, 11 years for one count of attempted murder, 11 years for 10 counts of aggravated robbery each, 18 months for unlawful passion of firearms, all to be served concurrently. If his sentence were cumulative he would be serving a sentence of 145 years and six months. Johansson in effect gets a 'bulk-discount' of 122 years.

Concurrent sentencing is in reality a "discounting" scheme for offenders - they get much the same sentence if they commit a multiple number of offences as if they had committed just one. The outcome is particularly unjust and unfair to victims and the community who rightly see these unpunished crimes as "freebies". They are!

Raymond Ratima is another example; Ratima killed seven members of his family, but only got one "life" sentence with ten years non-parole.

Just in case any of my critics think things have got better, think again! William Pokai Haare, already serving a 'life' sentence for murder (non-parole of 10 years) was given no additional sentence for assaulting a prison guard by throwing boiling water over him.

In a recent Colmar Brunton poll 85.9% voted for a cumulative sentencing system, it will be interesting to see which (if any) political party advocates this.

The Minister of Justice, Simon Power recently stated that it was essential to restore public faith and confidence in the Criminal Justice System. Getting rid of concurrent sentencing would go along way to restoring public confidence.


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