Second thoughts on three strikes

Written By: - Date published: 3:55 pm, May 25th, 2010 - 42 comments
Categories: crime, International - Tags: , , ,

ACT and National’s “Three strikes” act is likely to become law today.

The video below show that three strikes legislation hasn’t worked overseas. There’s a grassroots campaign in California to undo some of the damage wrought by the very wide application of the State’s Three Strikes law.

While New Zealand’s version isn’t likely to face exactly the problems detailed in the video above, it’s a timely reminder that imposing mandatory punishments solely be reason of a person’s status as a prior offender can produce perverse results.

We saw this firsthand in secret official advice to Simon Power from our own ministry of Justice which revealed their concerns that adopting a three strikes policy here could actually increase the number of murders.

We already know that longer sentences don’t reduce crime. It’s uncertain whether or not this law will have any deterrent effect, it’ll cost more to administer, it’s likely to lead to fewer guilty pleas and more appeals, while (by scraping parole on the third strike) it also removes the incentive for offenders to reform. It even risks breaching the Bill of Rights.

It’s a PR stunt entirely unsupported by evidence.

42 comments on “Second thoughts on three strikes”

  1. Rex Widerstrom 1

    Great… already totally overshadowed by the changes to the “Super City” proposal and Budget debate, and possibly about to be completely eclipsed by a resignation.

    And thus does one of the most shameful pieces of legislation ever to be passed in the NZ Parliament slip into the statute books almost unnoticed.

    Meanwhile I’m still waiting for:

    1. David Garrett’s repeated promises, when challenged on the issue, to look at the causes of offending (and means to deter those already embarked on a life of crime) to become firm proposals to which Act demands National agree as they did with this Bill. So far his oft-repeated claim that he’s as eager as I am to see less people hitting their first strike let alone their third has resulted in… nothing.

    2. Labour to commit to its repeal. Or indeed to come up with anything of substance on justice issues.

    • Draco T Bastard 1.1

      Was watching the news. The three strikes law got mentioned that it had been passed and then we got several minutes about the duchess of York and her failings.

  2. I am sure that Labour will pledge to repeal.

    I just had a wee squiz through the homicide statistics. Readers of this blog will remember many wingnuts claiming that Labour was soft on law and order and National will be much more tough. The stats are as follows:

    2003 – 104
    2004 – 86
    2005 – 109
    2006 – 101
    2007 – 92
    2008 – 111
    2009 – 134

    John Key is not doing very well. No doubt the tories will argue this is evidence to suggest that we should just get tougher.

    • ianmac 2.1

      mickysavage: I do believe that those stats can be a bit confusing as homicide sounds like murder but includes manslaughter and maybe suicide. The number of murders has been between 50-60 for many years and blips occur with multiple murders such as Aramoana. Though last year the murders were more than 70, with the possible cause???
      The Tories did hammer Labour for a violent crime filled society so it serves them right if they get hoisted!

      • mickysavage 2.1.1

        Precisely. There seems to be a rise, possibly because of the increase in unemployment.

        But Helen and Michael should not have been blamed for the homicide rate that occurred on their watch which was lower. If anything they appeared to do quite well.

        The category includes murders and manslaughters, not suicides.

      • Anita 2.1.2

        I’m pretty sure homicide doesn’t include suicide. Homicide is a crime coding statistic collected by the Police, suicide is a determination by a coroner; I don’t believe the stats are merged.

        I don’t even think it includes road deaths where there was a charge of dangerous driving causing death because I believe that’s coded as a driving offence not a homicide.

  3. BLiP 3

    How can the foreign-owned businesses set to run our prisons reasonably expect to make a profit without a guaranteed supply of human beings to profit from? C’mon, guys, get with the programme.

  4. RedLogix 4

    Another critical issue with these mandatory sentencing laws is that the most crucial step in the justice process becomes the point at which charges are laid, and specifically what charges are laid.

    Anyone with the slightest familiarity with the system know that the Police prosecutors/Crown lawyers can respond to the same factual briefs with very different charges…and that this decision is generally made behind closed office doors. It is not uncommon for relatively minor criminal acts to be slammed with quite serious charges, charges now qualifying as three strike offences.

    Until now at least Judges retained discretion around sentencing; if the Police overeached with their prosecution, it’s entirely feasible that in open Court a relatively light sentence would go some distance towards a just outcome. Mandatory sentencing laws remove that point of discretion from open, accountable Courts.

    Clearly this increases the odds of miscarriages of justice occuring.

  5. Brett 5

    Should be 3rd strike and you are taken out the back and shot.
    Solves a lot of problems.

    • Marty G 5.1

      what if you kill an innocent person?

      how does killing someone send the message that it is wrong to be violent?

      would you kill someone for aggravated robbery? Because that’s what you just proposed.

      in states with the death penalty the homicide rate tends to be higher

      it is immoral for the State/society to take a life

      the cost of executing someone in the States is greater than life imprisonment because you have to have a rigorous appeals process, and even then you end up killing innocent people.

      I could go on like this all day, Brett, because, unlike you, I have given the practicalities and morality of the death penalty a moments’ thought. You are just thinking with your jerking knee again.

    • Pascal's bookie 5.2

      Solves a lot of problems.

      That’s the way murderers think. True story.

  6. Tigger 6

    It’s law. And it’s a bad law because it won’t actually solve the issue it pretends it will solve.

    Once again I’m left wondering how the Maori Party can continue to provide confidence and supply to a government that, when it really matters, keeps putting the boot into Maori…

  7. vto 7

    As said in another post .. “too much power in the hands of really quite average people”

    like Hide.

    like Smith.

    like Garrett ha ha ha what a moron

    like Key

    We cannot carry on like this with unfettered parliamentary power. It needs limits. It is dangerous.

  8. vto 8

    so the police can ramp up the charges to something qualifying for 3 strikes.

    and the jury can make the decision.

    and that’s that. forever.

    policemen and juries. god help us.

    • Pascal's bookie 8.1

      Yep. Or the police can scale down a charge on a sympathetic perp (like someone who chases a tagger down the street and stabs him to death) if they suspect a jury might not convict due to the mandatory sentence.

      Either way, it’s a step away from rule of law, towards, “whaddiyah reckin this guy shuld git, and what do we need to charge him with to get that sentence?”

      • MickeyS 8.1.1

        That shouldn’t pose too many problems – as long as the Ministers of Police & Corrections are the same person, then Policing will be seen as a ‘supply side’ activity for the profit-driven prisons.

        Answer to your question? They’ll charge them all with the heaviest possible and then ‘lose’ the evidence that suggests innocence. Then they’ll go for Name Suppression for their mates who get arrested and sweep those crimes under the mat.

  9. Tigger 10

    Anyone wonder why NACT felt the need to include “compelling indecent act with animal” as one of the three strikes offences? There been a particular run of animal buggery recently or something? Clearly they run in circles that I don’t…

    • Because it’s a really appalling thing to do to someone to force them to have sex with an animal.

      • Tigger 10.1.1

        So compelling someone to do that > actually doing it yourself? No thought of the animal then…

        • Graeme Edgeler

          Yeah – the maximum penalty for compelling an indecent act with an animal is 14 years. The maximum penalty for bestiality is seven years, and the maximum for committing an indecent act on an animal is three years. The maximum penalty for animal abuse that results in the death of the animal is three years (with Simon Bridges likely to get Parliament to increase it to five years).

      • felix 10.1.2

        Ah, that makes more sense. I had thought it meant it was a fascinating indecent act.

    • Bill 10.2

      There is a large area in Northern Columbia where it is accepted and encouraged that young boys upon reaching puberty go out and have sex with donkeys. Whereas here, young girls are pressured by young boys…..cultural relativism and all that.

  10. The Chairman 11

    Can anyone confirm if Labour is going to repeal this policy?

  11. Bill 12

    Strike 1.

    Has anybody been following the case in Britain where three kids playing doctors and nurses has seen two ten year olds convicted of attempted rape and placed on the sex offenders register?

    That would be strike one, yes?

    The fact that the girl had a scratch on her arm. Assault? That strike two? Or do the strikes not accumulate from within the same incident?

    Something to think about anyway. In a transposed scenario, I guess we’d be reduced to thanking god they didn’t steal any lollies from one another.

    Strike 2.

    Anybody else seeing the jails fill with political prisoners? Holding a placard. Police arrest you and claim resistance and suddenly the placard becomes a weapon that you used to assault the officer(s)?

    ‘Cause with all the climate and oil and double recessions and what not, dissent is only going to increase and what better way to deal with it than to make it profitable through introducing it to a lasting relationship with a privatised prison complex?

    You think there are not people who are keen to find a way?

    Strike 3.

    Whether or not anything resembling the above scenarios come to pass is irrelevant given that this is at the very least a turning of the screws, a ramping up of the sense of fear and dread we as good citizens are expected to feel and live under while we succumb to ridiculous levels of self surveillance and self censorship just in case we upset someone somewhere and fall foul of threats of a strike or two here or there.

    • Rex Widerstrom 12.1

      The fact that the girl had a scratch on her arm. Assault? That strike two? Or do the strikes not accumulate from within the same incident?

      No, that’s one of the many irrational and half-assed aspects of this law.

      I go on a spree and rape ten women before getting caught: my sentence counts as one strike and I get two more goes.

      You commit three eligible offences over, say, thirty years, getting caught after each: bzzzt game over.

      Not that you’re an angel for three serious offences in 30 years, but I know which one of us I’d think more likely to reoffend.

      Alternatively if I’ve already done 3x multiple rape sprees before the law came in and you have a clean record, we’re even in terms of “strike count”.

      But it’s all about protecting society, ya know.

    • 1. That would not be strike one. It only counts as a strike (in New Zealand) if its committed when aged 18+ (no juvenile offences count, and even offending committed while an adult – 17 for criminal purposes don’t count).

      2. Common assault does not count as a strike. Stealing/theft does not count as a strike.

      3. Strikes do not accumulate from the same incident. Indeed, they only accumulate if committed after the sentencing of the earlier strike.

      4. Assaulting a police officer with a weapon isn’t a strike (although using a firearm against a law enforcement officer does count as one).

  12. freedom 13

    Three strikes won’t work. In our hearts and minds we all know that the real problems lay elsewhere in society. A bigger issue than the three strikes is the actual custodial programmes that are meant to rehabilitate the offenders. The rights of the incarcerated have become so twisted out of reality that a recidivist drink driver, an alcoholic violent sociopath (and suspected police informant) who was incarcerated for manslaughter has not even been made to complete drug and alcohol rehab whilst in prison. He is also a near illiterate and has not been made to undertake any educational programmes either.

    There were and are numerous questions on the legal protection this man has received and his hundreds of unconvicted offences show him to be one of the country’s worst repeat offenders. He should be the posterchild for enforced rehabilitation programmes and lifetime driving bans. He has been banned from driving for ten years, which is the length of this prison term, which begs the question why does his ten year driving ban not begin the day he is released. Which if he, and his minders get their way, will be next month instead of 2013.

    Anyone with any dealings with this man knows it is a certainty that he will kill again.

  13. PK 14

    ***so the police can ramp up the charges to something qualifying for 3 strikes.

    and the jury can make the decision.

    and that’s that. forever.***

    Well no, you have to still do that 3 times which isn’t as easy as it sounds.

    • Rex Widerstrom 14.1

      Well no, you have to still do that 3 times which isn’t as easy as it sounds.

      That’s what I thought too. But apparently they’ve left a neat little loophole for themselves whereby one offence might do it.

      Another “drafting error”, entirely unintentional, nothing to do with the SST’s wet dreams, I’m sure.

      • It wasn’t a drafting error or a loophole. It was clearly announced National Party policy prior to the election. “Life means life for the worst murders” was a campaign slogan. This was always the plan and it was clearly announced; that the media is somehow surprised is an indictment on them.

        • Rex Widerstrom

          Perhaps they thought (as I did, I admit) that that provision would come in under a separate Bill?

          Not that I have much faith in the MSM, and I guess am really trying to mitigate my own inattention to the topic… :-/

          But I’d have thought a “one strike” law for murder would have been something the NACTS thought important enough to parade before the country as a Bill in its own right. As it is, they’ve lost the kudos they would have got from the “hang ’em all” brigade.

          • Graeme Edgeler

            Perhaps they thought … that that provision would come in under a separate Bill?

            I’m not sure why. That was the major point of the bill. The three strikes bit was an afterthought National had only promised to support to select committee. The Bill was about getting rid of parole for repeat violent offenders, including for some life sentences.

            And anyway, given the MSM should have reported on the first reading, in which the then minister in charge said:

            In keeping with National’s election policy, the bill also introduces a new category of sentence aimed at the worst case of murder. For these cases the bill will enable the court to impose a life sentence without parole, regardless of whether the offender has offended previously.

            It should have been pretty damn clear by that point even if they’d been asleep for previous year and a half.

  14. fatty 15

    Any chance of getting fraud on that list of 40……how about embezzlement, false advertising, bribery, unfair competition, tax evasion, and unfair labor practices.

    Robbery is on the list?

    wounding with intent to injure is on the list too…..but if you are roaming the streets with a loaded gun and a weapon, picking fights with youths and pulling the trigger, a $750 donation should see you right…so long as you are a well to do businessmen.

    Are these laws to protect the rich or the white….or do you have to be rich and white?

  15. Bunji 16

    More legal experts come out against Three Strikes.

    “Barristers and legal advocates fear the Sentencing and Parole Act will lead to overcrowded prisons, greater reoffending, court backlogs and miscarriages of justice.”

    So experts in the field think it will increase offending, the Justice department thinks it will raise the murder rate, and David Garrett thinks it will lower crime by 10-20% in 5 years…

    Hmm… who to believe? Who’s more… (captcha:) reliable ?
    Man that captcha is spooky sometimes. I think I may make a personal rule in future to always manage to include the word in my comment… (usually so easy!)

    • r0b 16.1

      Bunji – enjoying your guest posts!

      On three strikes see also a good summary on No Right Turn yesterday:

    • Anita 16.2


      Do you happen to have a link to Garrett saying he believes that? It’s be a quote to treasure because it’s so … optimistic.

      • Lew 16.2.1

        Well, yes and no. He hedges and weasels. But you can listen to it here.


        • Anita

          Wiffly waffly weasels in hedgerows:

          I can’t say whether it will be 10% 20% but I would expect a marked reduction once the policy is fully in place


          Sean Plunket:

          what you would expect the reduction in violent crime to be in the first five years of this policy


          oh I think 10 20% is quite realistic

          Bunji, you might like to stop misquoting David Garrett, you’re making him look stupid, and he really doesn’t need help. If you have to cite him at least point out that he said violent crime (ACT apparently doesn’t rate white collar embezzlers),

  16. fatty 17

    “David Garrett thinks it will lower crime by 10-20% in 5 years’

    Think he may have got his figures and his facts mixed up.
    What he was trying to say was the value of the prisons will go up by 10-20%, before National sell them off

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