21 Oct 2019

Sentence discount for some meth-related crimes welcomed

7:52 pm on 21 October 2019

Methamphetamine dealers whose own addiction caused their offending can now receive a sentence discount of up to 30 percent.

Transparent plastic bags with white powder isolated on black background

Photo: 123RF File photo

It's one of several changes to meth sentencing options announced today in a Court of Appeal judgment - overhauling the guidelines used by judges since 2005.

The guidelines for meth-related sentencing were widely based on the guideline of the R v Fatu court decision 14 years ago.

In December 2018, the court began to signal its intentions to reconsider aspects of Fatu, following concerns it was resulting in disproportionately severe sentences.

The Court also acknowledged that some assumptions made in 2005 were no longer true.

With that in mind, six sentence appeals were chosen for hearing by five judges, who heard submissions from eight organisations including the Human Rights Commission.

What has changed

Judges can now consider if an offender's background of poverty and deprivation has impaired their choices or diminished moral responsibility.

This can potentially, but not only, result from loss of land, language, culture, rangatiratanga, mana and dignity.

Lawyers and judges are also encouraged to make greater use of a clause in the Sentencing Act allowing them to adjourn sentencing so an offender can attend rehabilitation.

Judges have also been given more discretion to take into account the scale of the offence, and whether the person is a "high-roller", or small street dealer.

In addition, there has been a significant modification to the sentencing bands relating to the quantity of meth being manufactured, imported or supplied.

Previously, a quantity of less than five grams, incurred a sentence of between two and four and a half years.

Now, the band includes community service, and only goes up to four years.

A quantity of between 500 grams and two kilograms used to carry a sentence of ten years to life.

That's now been reduced to between eight and 16 years.

The band for more than two kilograms, however, has not changed from its original ten years to life sentence.

Health issue first

Ross Bell from the Drug Foundation said it was good to see the court had finally acknowledged that methamphetamine offending did not happen in a vacuum.

He said the judgment reflected the fact that people were starting to view meth offending as a health issue first and foremost.

Mr Bell said today's changes were one in a series of building blocks towards a much more health-focused approach to drug offending.

"We've seen lots of things happening over the last decade where different approaches have been encouraged, you know, the Law Commission recommendations back in 2011, the recent law change that this government has made around police discretion..." he said.

"I think there is lots of building blocks that are being put in place to suggest that New Zealand needs to take a much more health-focused approach to its drug problem and yes, absolutely this judgement is yet another one of those building blocks."

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