What this chapter covers

This chapter has information about some common minor offences that people face in the criminal courts, particularly when facing charges for the first time. These include:

  • shoplifting
  • tagging and graffiti
  • assault
  • drug offences, like possession of cannabis
  • pāua poaching and other fisheries offences.

For information about driving offences, go to the chapter, “Driving and traffic law”.

For each of those areas, the chapter has information like:

  • what the prosecution has to prove to get a conviction
  • what defences you might have to the charge
  • what the possible penalties are, including what you’re likely to get for a first offence.

This chapter cites a number of New Zealand court decisions as legal authority for the law as we’ve stated it. Sometimes we’ve also set out the facts and outcome of particular cases as examples. (For more information about how to find these cases, see “Other resources / How to find the cases we’ve cited in this chapter” at the end of this chapter.)

For information about how the criminal courts work, see the chapter “The criminal courts”, and for information about what legal advice you can get if you can’t afford to pay a lawyer, see the chapter “Legal aid”.

Note: The “Shoplifting” section in this chapter is an expanded version of the separate “Shoplifting” chapter that was in the 2015/16 edition of this manual.

How criminal sentencing works

Starting points, uplifts and discounts: How a sentence is decided

If you’re convicted of an offence, the judge will usually first set a “starting point” sentence, based on what you did in your particular case and including any features that made it worse (“aggravating factors”) or not as bad (“mitigating factors”) than it would otherwise have been.

After setting this starting point, the judge will then turn to you, your current situation and any criminal record you have. The judge will apply “uplifts” (increases) for any aggravating factors relating to you, and “discounts” (reductions) for mitigating factors relating to you.

For example:

  • An assault involving several punches to the head might mean a starting-point sentence of around 100 hours community work. In setting this, the judge will have taken into account aggravating factors relating to what happened (for example, if the other person was smaller and younger than you) and any mitigating factors (for example, that you were provoked).
  • If you have a record, particularly for the same type of offending, you’ll usually get an “uplift” for this as an aggravating factor. This could take the sentence to a short prison term of two to three months.
  • But then you may get “discounts” for mitigating factors – for example if you cooperated with the police, pleaded guilty, and have said sorry (“expressed remorse”). In this example, those discounts might cancel out the aggravating “uplift” so that the final sentence is roughly the same as the starting point of 100 hours community work.

How much will my sentence be reduced if I plead guilty?

In general, the earlier you plead guilty, the greater the reduction (“discount”) you’re likely to get for pleading guilty. However, other factors in your particular case will be taken into account too, such as how much you’ve admitted responsibility for the offending and shown that you’re sorry.

The maximum discount you’ll be able to get for a guilty plea will be 25%.

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