Concerns over judge leniency leads to three-strikes appeal

by Samantha Woodhill14 Mar 2016
Crown Law is lodging an appeal in two cases where criminals weren’t given the automatic punishment of life in prison without parole under the three-strikes law.

The law, which aims to prevent repeat violent offending, does allow judges to give a minimum non-parole period if they feel a lifetime in prison would be extremely unfair.  The sentence has never been imposed in New Zealand, according to a report by Radio NZ.

But the ACT Party, which initiated the law, said the appeals should be used to determine if judges have been too lenient in imposing the three-strikes law.

The case of Justin Turner is one of the cases under appeal.  Turner was sentenced to life in prison with a 15 year minimum non-parole period for the 2014 murder of Auckland man Maqbool Hussain, a crime he could have been sentenced to life in prison with no prospect of parole for.  The judge said he showed remorse.

“Well, they're not happy, because 15, 17 years, it's not good enough - because he's coming back from the jail in almost eight or nine years,” said Aurang Zeb, Hussain’s cousin said of the family’s disappointment in the sentence.

“He's coming back to the people.  He's a very dangerous man.  He killed a person just for nothing.”

Shane Harrison, who was sentenced to prison with a minimum non-parole period of 13 years, is the second being appealed by Crown Law.  Harrison was charged with the murder of Alonsio “Sio” Matalasi in 2013.  Crown Law is considering adding two more cases to the appeal.

“I accept in every individual case that the judge was right,” ACT leader Seymour said.

“But you do start to worry from a public policy perspective that a pattern is emerging, and the three-strikes law may not be getting taken seriously enough by the judiciary.

“As a parliamentarian, I also reserve the right to question whether the overall patterns are fitting what Parliament intended when we legislated three-strikes five years ago.

“The manifestly unjust clause was meant to be a safety valve, it should not become de rigueur.”

Warren Brookbanks, a law professor at Auckland University said that if life without parole was imposed after this appeal, it was likely that cases would eventually end up in the Supreme Court.

“It would mean that the Supreme Court would have an opportunity to give a very principled consideration to this legislation, and make a clear ruling to give some parameters as to how other courts should interpret the phrase ‘manifestly unjust’,” he said.


  • by Don 14/03/2016 2:15:26 p.m.

    Turner - a 29 year old with severe psychological issues, was found by the sentencing Judge to have some prospect of rehabilitation. Of course life in prison without prospect of parole would have been manifestly unjust. I hope Crown Law is not yielding to political pressure in taking these appeals.