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Changes to NSW proposed mandatory sentencing laws for drug & alcohol offences

In February, 2014 Premier Barry O’Farrell and the NSW government sought to introduce a new mandatory sentencing regime for persons convicted of assault in circumstances where they were under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

The state government had initially proposed the following mandatory sentences:-

  1. 4 years for affray;
  2. 2 years for assault causing actual bodily harm;
  3. 2 years for assaulting a police officer;
  4. 8 years minimum imprisonment and a maximum of 20 years imprisonment for fatal ‘one-punch’ assaults (with the maximum increased to 25 years for anyone under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time the offence was committed).

Those laws have now been significantly reduced as a result of heavy criticism from the NSW legal profession which submitted that the mandatory sentencing laws were too broad, opening the way for people to serve mandatory gaol sentences for minor assault charges. Legal experts were also concerned about the potential impact such laws would have on vulnerable minority groups that are already overrepresented in NSW gaols.

Instead, the government will now seek to pass laws introducing minimum sentences of 3-5 years imprisonment for serious assaults including reckless assault occasioning grievous bodily harm and assaulting a police officer. Offences will still need to be committed in public places and the offender will need to have been affected by drugs or alcohol at the time of the assault.

David Brown, Emeritus Professor of Law at the University of New South Wales has commented that “the US is currently grappling with the damaging effects of mandatory sentencing policies enacted in the 1980s and 1990s, and attempting to wind them back. We stray down the road to mandatory sentencing at great peril and for little or no gain, save as a political salve and media distraction”.

NSW Greens MP, David Shoebridge, has also attacked the proposed laws for their likely impact on state gaol populations, stating that Barry O’Farrell “is pressing on with mandatory sentencing when all the research shows it doesn’t deter crime. It is intended to pacify the media and not fix the problem”.

For more information on your legal rights or criminal law generally, contact Brazel Moore Lawyerson (02) 4324 7699 to speak to an experienced criminal lawyer today.

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