The Christchurch Shooter: The Sentence
In a world ravaged by the Coronavirus, the events of March 2019 feel a distant memory. But the Wheels of Justice keep on turning, and in New Zealand, this means the sentencing of the Christchurch shooter. You know, the fellow who opened fire on the Christchurch mosque, killing 51 people. Today, we finally got the sentence:
Life Imprisonment Without Parole.
It’s an interesting sentence from a legal perspective, because it is the first time the New Zealand Judiciary have made use of a provision inserted into the Sentencing Act in 2010 – the ability to sentence someone to Life Without Parole. Hitherto, the judges have made a point of not using the 2010 provision (and invariably finding work-arounds for the Three Strikes nonsense), because the judges really, really hate the 2010 reforms. Sentencing is a complicated art, and they consider stuff like Three Strikes to be basically vandalism. Sentences for terrible murders have thus been along the lines of Life With Minimum Non-Parole of 20 or 30 Years.
I was actually wondering whether this judicial distaste for 2010 would result in a sentence of Life With Minimum Non-Parole of 70 Years or something, which amounts to the same thing, but which would also be a Message. On the other hand, that would just invite appeal – you can’t sentence someone to consecutive life sentences (s23 of the Sentencing Act), so you would have to argue that this was a severe concurrent sentence, not a consecutive one. This sentence makes the whole thing rather moot, of course.
The other curious thing is that the Christchurch Shooter did Plead Guilty. Under New Zealand sentencing guidelines, this enables up to 25% reduction of the sentence (he didn’t Plead Guilty at the first opportunity, so it would have been a reduction of less than 25%). How a reduction works with what amounts to an indeterminate sentence – Life Without Parole – is actually an interesting question. Clearly the judge decided that the crime was so heinous that Life Without Parole minus 20-25% was still Life Without Parole.
In any case, that’s just legal pedantry. I don’t think anyone is objecting to the Shooter spending the rest of his life staring at the wall of his prison cell.