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Communtity Law Manual | Criminal Courts | The “three strikes” law for repeated serious violent offending

Sentencing: The judge’s decision about punishment

The “three strikes” law for repeated serious violent offending

Sentencing Act 2002, ss 86A-86I

If you are being sentenced for your third serious violent offence, and you received appropriate warnings from the court at the time of sentencing for each prior serious violent offence, the court must give you the maximum penalty without parole unless that would be manifestly unjust.

“Serious violent offences” include, for example, sexual violation, murder, manslaughter, wounding with intent to injure, kidnapping, robbery, aggravated burglary and committing a crime with a firearm.

When convicted of a first serious violent offence, you must be issued with a warning which outlines the possible future consequences of serious offending. If you then commit a further serious violent offence (apart from murder), you must be given a “final” warning. These warnings can be written or spoken and do not need to be in a particular format or words.

If you have previously been convicted of murder and are convicted of murder again (whether this is your second or a later conviction of murder), then you must be sentenced to life in prison without parole (unless not having parole would be “manifestly unjust”).

This strict law can often lead to unjust outcomes. The courts have said that “manifestly unjust” means very substantial prejudice. In cases they have looked at factors like youth or a guilty plea where those reduce the culpability of the offender. They take into account both the circumstances of the offending and those of the offender when determining whether there will be manifest injustice. A guilty plea alone will not make a sentence manifestly unjust.

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