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Criminal & traffic law

Sentencing: The judge’s decision about punishment

The different types of sentences

Sentencing Act 2002, ss 10A-18, Part 2

There are a range of sentences that a judge can give, depending on what’s appropriate in the particular case. A judge can also give a combination of sentences.

The following are the categories of possible sentences and orders:

Discharge, or order to come up for sentence

  • Discharge without conviction – this is the equivalent of being found not guilty (an acquittal). The judge can only discharge without conviction if the direct and indirect consequences of a conviction would be out of all proportion to the seriousness of the offence. Also, a discharge without conviction can only be given if the particular offence doesn’t have a minimum sentence. The judge may also order restitution (for example giving back stolen property) or compensation (payment to the victim). A discharge without conviction means you do not have a criminal record.
  • Conviction and discharge – This is only available if there isn’t a minimum sentence. Also, the judge can only convict and discharge if the judge is satisfied a conviction would be a sufficient penalty in itself. This means you do have a criminal record but receive no other penalty except the fact of conviction. This charge will go onto your criminal record.
  • Order to come up for sentence if called on – If you have been convicted, then instead of imposing a sentence the court may order you to come up for sentence if called on within a period of up to one year. This means if you come back to court within that time you could then be sentenced on the earlier charge too. This is sometimes called a “suspended” sentence, or a “good behaviour bond”.

Fines and reparation

  • Paying a fine – A fine is a punishment for breaking the law. It’s paid to the court. For more information about fines, see “Fines” below.
  • Paying reparation – Reparation is a payment as a form of compensation made by an offender to a victim of a crime.
    The $50 offender levy

    Sentencing Act 2002, ss 105B, 105D

    Everyone sentenced in the District or High Court has to pay a special $50 fee called the “offender levy”. The offender levy is used to fund services for victims of serious offences.

Community-based sentences

  • Community work – This requires you to complete a set number of hours of community work, between 40 and 400 hours.
  • Supervision – You will have regular check in meetings in person or over the phone with a probation officer for a period of between six months and one year, and must comply with various reporting, residential (where you live), association (who you can hang around with) and other conditions.
  • Intensive supervision – You will have regular check in meetings in person or over the phone with a probation officer for a period of between six months and two years and must comply with various reporting, residential, association and other conditions. It involves more frequent reporting to the probation officer than for a standard sentence of supervision, and it may include doing a residential programme as one of the conditions.
  • Community detention – You are required to remain at an approved residence under electronic monitoring for between two and 84 hours per week for a period of up to six months. An “approved residence” means a residence that a probation officer has said is suitable for you to live at while under detention. The other people in the house must know about the conditions of your sentence and need to agree to you serving the sentence there. They can withdraw their consent at any time.

Home detention and prison

  • Home detention – You are required to remain at an approved residence under electronic monitoring with strict limitations on when you can be away from the residence, and close supervision by a probation officer. Sentences can be for a period of 14 days to 12 months.
  • Jail – if you have been held in custody before trial that time will be taken into account and taken off your sentence. You’ll be released from jail when you get parole or when your sentence ends (“time served”).
  • Parole means you are released from jail early following a Parole Board hearing without serving your full sentence. You have to follow the Board’s conditions for the remaining time of your sentence and be supervised by a probation officer

Will I get the maximum sentence?

All offences have a maximum penalty. The judge will look at the facts of the case to decide what sentence is appropriate in the circumstances. The maximum sentence is usually given only in the most serious cases.

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The criminal courts

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Lag Law answers heaps of common questions you might have if you’re going to prison, you’re in prison, or you’re getting out of prison. It talks about your rights in prison, and sets out the laws and rules that affect you when you’re put in prison.

Order hard copies from:
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Ministry of Justice


The Ministry of Justice website has a range of pamphlets and other information on topics covered in this chapter. You can access this information online, or you can order hardcopies of the pamphlets from:

Phone: 0800 587 847
Email: publications@justice.govt.nz


Ministry of Justice Collections Unit – www.justice.govt.nz/fines

Phone: 0800 4 FINES (0800 434 637)
From overseas: +64 4 915 8586
From Australia: 1800 144 239 (toll free)

You can check or pay your fines by phone or online. The website has information about both infringement fines and court-imposed fines, and about reparations. The website also has information about District Court Collections Units.

Department of Internal Affairs – www.passports.govt.nz/what-you-need-to-renew-or-apply-for-a-passport/before-you-travel/

This webpage has information about paying your fines to avoid being stopped at the border.

Phone: 0800 PAYORSTAY (0800 729 677)

“Giving evidence” (Law Society pamphlet)


This pamphlet is for people who have to give evidence in court as a witness.

You can order hardcopies from the New Zealand Law Society:

Phone: (04) 472 7837
Email: pamphlets@lawsociety.org.nz

Department of Corrections


This website has information:

for offenders

for family and friends of offenders

about the Department of Corrections’ role in the community, including community work, supervision, home detention, and the role of probation officers

about the New Zealand Parole Board.

Victim Notification Register


This page on the Department of Corrections website has information about the victim notification register including, the process, how to apply, information victims can receive and how to make a complaint.

Restorative Practices Aotearoa


This website provides information on when Restorative Justice may be appropriate, and where in New Zealand Restorative Justice is available. You can also make an enquiry about Restorative Justice by filling out a form on their website.

Phone: 0800 RJA INC (0800 752 462)

Victim Support


Victim Support provides 24-hour support services to help New Zealanders rebuild their lives following a trauma or crisis.

Phone: 0800 842 846
Email: nationaloffice@victimsupport.org.nz

Victims Information


This is the website of the government’s “Victims Centre”. The site provides links to a range of services available to help victims deal with the practical and emotional effects of the crime, at each stage of the criminal and youth justice process.

Phone: 0800 650 654

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