The coward punch bill

The Herald reports:

A Private Member’s Bill sparked by a fatal punch at a Kerikeri pub 15 years ago now has a chance of becoming law.

Northland MP ’s Crimes (Coward Punch Causing Death) Amendment Bill was drawn from the Parliamentary ballot on Thursday, to the envy of fellow MPs who’ve been waiting three terms for a chance to create a new law.

The Bill would create a new offence covering serious assaults causing death, especially a punch to the head known as a ”king hit” or ”coward’s punch”.

So why is this needed?

It was prompted by an assault at Kerikeri’s Homestead Tavern about 15 years ago, when he was working as a police officer, in which a 60-year-old man from Te Tii was punched without warning in the side of the head by a man almost twice his weight. As the victim fell his head struck a bar leaner.

”He never got up,” King said.

So why not just charge them with manslaughter?

King said a new, stand-alone offence was required to send a message about the seriousness of that kind of assault.

He also knew of past cases in which juries had been reluctant to convict an offender of manslaughter even though a death had resulted. A new charge would offer an alternative to juries as well as defence lawyers who wanted to plea-bargain to avoid a trial.

The new charge would carry a maximum sentence of 20 years, placing it between wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm (14 years) and manslaughter (life).

That seems a good rationale. If a jury is reluctant to give a manslaughter conviction, then this new offence could fill a useful hole.

However you need to be careful that it doesn’t accidentally result in offenders getting lighter sentences. If someone who would have had a manslaughter conviction gets charged and convicted of this offence, they may end up with a lighter sentence despite killing someone.

Anyone who kills someone in an unprovoked violent assault should face serious jail time.

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