Legal Beagle by Graeme Edgeler


All of these things are quite like each other

The following scenarios, based on cases that have made the news, or which I'm aware of because I've been around the courts for a while have something important in common:

  • A group of drunk high school students scale a fence at a holiday home to use a spa pool, drink alcohol, and generally make a mess of the place: trampling all over the plants and breaking glass bottles.
  • A sex offender climbs through a bedroom window looking for a victim. 
  • Peace protesters cut through the external fence of a spy base to deflate the dome shielding a satellite dish.*
  • A reveller at popular beach on New Year’s eve rifles through someone else’s tent looking for alcohol.
  • Greenpeace activists climb aboard an oil drilling ship, using bolt cutters to get access to drilling tower, staying there for four days in a protest.
  • Not realising there’s a metal grille behind it, someone uses a crowbar to break a shop window in the hopes of stealing cigarettes.
  • Someone climbs onto Hikitia (the crane ship near Te Papa), to nab a ‘souvenir’.
  • Someone purchases a marijuana joint from a drug dealer who is using the wall of an enclosed car yard to avoid being seen. (ok, this one hasn't happened yet, that I know of.)

If you’re not new here, you’ve probably guessed. These are all examples of the criminal offence of burglary, listed here in light of the ACT Party’s release of a three strikes for burglary policy.

I oppose the policy, but to be honest, if ACT limited it to burglaries of private dwellings, and applied the same protections that are in the three strikes system for violent offending, I probably wouldn’t. I wouldn’t campaign for it exactly, but a three year prison term is pretty standard for a repeat burglar of the type ACT is campaigning over, and may even by a little on the low side. The fact that it’s a non-parole period means there’s an increase, but it’s not a particularly large one, and parole is still available if the nominal sentence is higher than 3 years, which is likely.

But, with the expansion of the burglary offence, encompassing a far greater range of offending than previously, any law prohibiting justice in those edge case is a bad law, and should be opposed.

* I realise the burglary charge faced for the Waihopai protest resulted in an acquittal. A law change means the defence relied upon at that trial would no longer be available in the circumstances it was used.

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