Police Pursuits: Skye’s Law Changes Penalties for Chases

Sydney toddler Skye Sassine was killed on New Year’s Eve in 2009 when a speeding driver hit her family’s car while attempting to evade authorities during a police pursuit. Skye’s Law was created after the event to deter other drivers from engaging in high-speed chases to avoid being caught by police.

Skye’s Law forms section 51B of the Crimes Act 1900, and it’s officially known as police pursuit legislation. Skye’s Law means it is now an offence for someone to continue driving if they know that they are being pursued by police, or to drive off if they know their actions will likely result in a pursuit being initiated. NSW Government figures show that 445 people were convicted under Skye’s Law between May 2010 and March 2012, with 40% receiving a sentence of imprisonment.

What are the penalties under Skye’s Law?

Previously, failing to stop for police was punishable by a maximum 12-month prison sentence. The penalty for a guilty conviction under Skye’s Law is three years imprisonment for a first offence, and five years for a second offence. This is the maximum penalty that an offender will receive under the legislation. A mandatory period of disqualification from driving also forms part of the penalty for a finding of guilt under Skye’s Law.

Other possible penalties include fines, suspended sentences, community service and good behaviour bonds. The penalty a defendant will get for a conviction under Skye’s Law depends on the circumstances, and whether or not anyone was hurt as a result of the pursuit.

What does the prosecution have to prove?

For a defendant to be found guilty under Skye’s Law, the onus is on the prosecution to prove a number of different things, mainly that the offender was aware of the police pursuit and that they failed to stop, and on failing to stop that they drove in a reckless and/or dangerous manner to avoid being caught.

In cases where the prosecution is unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was aware that they needed to stop and refused to do so, and that they drove in a reckless or manner dangerous to the public, they may not be convicted under Skye’s Law. For a conviction, all the factors need to be in place, it is not enough to have one or two.

With a lot of different things to prove, it can be difficult for the prosecution to have enough evidence for a successful conviction under Skye’s Law.

Skye’s Law has had a mixed reception, and there has been criticism of the low percentage of offenders receiving prison sentences. The NSW Police Association has previously called for mandatory sentencing for offenders found guilty under Skye’s Law. And while the law is designed to act as a deterrent to offenders, there are some, including the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, who believe that police should be banned from participating in potentially dangerous high-speed chases.

Defendants facing penalisation under Skye’s Law are often able to defend themselves by presenting evidence to suggest that they weren’t aware of the police pursuit. The severity of the penalty may, in some cases, also be reduced for defendants who can show they are of good character, or provide extenuating circumstances to explain the offence.

If you are facing charges under Skye’s Law, or any other police pursuit offence, it is a good idea to speak to a criminal lawyer for advice.

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