Judges avoiding the harshest penalty

The Herald reports:

Act Party leader David Seymour says a pattern is emerging in which judges are choosing not to give the harshest penalty for murderers under the legislation.

On Thursday, Hamilton man Turei Rawiri Kingi, 26, was sentenced to a minimum of 13 years’ jail for bludgeoning an elderly man to death with a single strike of a bottle in August.

The murder was Kingi’s second “strike”, or serious violence offence.

Under a provision in the three strikes legislation, Kingi faced a life sentence without parole — unless the judge considered this punishment “manifestly unjust”.

Justice Edwin Wylie ruled that the sentence would be manifestly unjust because of Kingi’s mental health problems and a number of other factors.

It is the third time in three cases that judges have used this clause to avoid the harshest penalty.

He killed within months of getting his first strike. I’m not optimistic that when he is released from prison, he won’t carry on offending.

Mr Seymour said he respected the judges’ decisions.

But he said that the drafters of the three strikes law would probably be surprised that the “manifestly unjust” clause had been used in 100 per cent of the relevant cases.

He said the safety valve clause was designed to prevent injustices in the most extraordinary, “out-of-the-box” homicide cases in which a life sentence without parole would clearly be wrong.

“It is interesting just from a policy point of view to note that so far this … scenario has played out three times, once in Auckland, once in Wellington and once in Hamilton, and each time the judge has said that this is one of these … extraordinary cases,” Mr Seymour said.

What will be interesting is when someone is up for a third strike for a non-murder case, so it is not life without parole but the maximum sentence (say 20 years for rape) without parole. Will the judge then impose the penalty specified under the three strikes law, or will judges continue to find reasons for a stronger penalty to be manifestly unjust?

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