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“Three Strikes” Law Would Save Lives

Media Release
12th December 2007

One Weekend Four Murders!
“Three Strikes” Law Would Save Lives

David Garrett is a Barrister in Auckland, he is also a spokesman for the Sensible Sentencing Trust, David, like many other New Zealanders believes New Zealand’s high and ever increasing level of violent crime is a direct result of corrupt sentencing policies combined with a political agenda that has tried to convince us that criminals are victims of society and best rehabilitated within the community rather than punished inside of prisons. David Garrett argues that if New Zealand adopted a “Three Strikes” law many innocent lives would be saved.

“In two recent high profile homicides, the alleged perpetrators each have at least three prior convictions for serious violence. It is not possible – or in fact desirable – to further identify the cases at this stage. This is for two very good reasons; firstly there are suppression orders in place, and to breach them invites contempt of court charges. Secondly – and perhaps more importantly from our perspective – if we identify the alleged killers, their lawyers are able to make an application for a discharge without a trial, because such publicity may prejudice a fair trial.

The identities of the alleged killers in these two cases will emerge in the fullness of time but at this stage, suffice it to say that if they are eventually found guilty, two people would have been alive now if a “three strikes” law was in force in New Zealand a month ago.

I am currently attempting to prise some no doubt embarrassing numbers out of the Department of Corrections using the Official information Act. The central question I have asked reads:

“How many persons currently serving life sentences for murder (regardless of the non - parole period if any) had, prior to their conviction for murder, three or more convictions for an offence of serious violence. (Examples of such offences are given below).”

One would have thought that the above is a relatively easy question for the officials to answer. Indeed, the person I am dealing with at the Department replied on 20 November – five weeks is not such a bad response time as these things go – indicating that the information had been obtained, but the formal response was “ with the Ministerial Co-ordinator.” I am still waiting.

From other sources, I have determined that if we had a “three strikes” law in which a “strike” was defined as “an offence of serious violence carrying a sentence of at least two years imprisonment”, our prison population would almost double. That, of course, will be at least one of the reasons for arguing that a “three strikes” law is impracticable. Building prisons with underfloor heating and top gym facilities is expensive.

Looking at that statistic from the opposite perspective – that of victims and prospective victims – the number is equally alarming. It means at there are about 8,000 violent recidivist offenders walking around in the community. Some of them may never commit another violent crime – but what is certain is that some of them will. And their next crime may be the most violent of all – homicide.

“Three strikes” laws overseas – particularly in the United States – have come in for harsh criticism – much of it justifiable. Because of the American distinction between “felonies” and “misdemeanors”, and poorly drafted laws, people can and have been locked up for 25 years to life for a simple theft without violence.

It is not difficult to draft a law which “catches only the really bad guys” and avoids those kinds of injustices – indeed I have recently drafted just such a law. I sent it to various people for comment, one of whom was the leader of a lobby group in California which seeks to amend California’s law so that it catches only violent felons.

The response was “…compared to what California has, yours in wonderful.” That is good enough for me, given that this lobby group is led by stereotype California liberals. I do not expect such a guardedly enthusiastic response from the liberals in New Zealand – no doubt there will be the usual howls of outrage at the prospect of increasing our prison population.

Incidentally, the leaders of the California lobby group were astounded – as was everyone else we met on our recent study trip to the USA – that we do not have Life Without Parole (LWOP) as even a option for our worst murderers. In the deluded minds of those who make penal policy in New Zealand, even Graeme Burton is capable of rehabilitation. God help our children”.


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