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.

Appearing as a Witness at Downing Centre Local Court

If you have important knowledge or information about a crime, you may be asked to attend court as a witness for the defence or the prosecution. This means that you will be required to answer questions and explain your information to the magistrate or jury to help them in making their decision. Appearing in a court, particularly if it is a large court such as Downing Centre Local Court can be intimidating. Having an understanding of the court process may help you feel more confident.

You will usually be asked to be a witness during a court case by the lawyer acting for the defence or the prosecution, or by the defendant themselves if they have no legal representation. The person who has asked you to be a witness will advise you when and where you need to go to court.

Can I refuse to be a witness?

You can refuse to act as a witness if you have a strong objection. If you do, you may be served with a subpoena by the lawyer acting for the defendant or prosecution. A subpoena is a court issued document which requires you to attend court and give evidence or product documentary or other physical evidence for a court case. If you have been served with a subpoena you will be required to attend court and give your testimony.

What if I’m away or sick?

If you are unwell or are going to be away on the date you are supposed to appear in court, it is important to notify the relevant parties as soon as possible. If you are not well on the day you will need to provide a medical certificate.

Can I wait in a separate area?

If you are concerned that you may be unsafe, or you feel threatened, you can ask to wait in a separate area from the defendant. Most courts, particularly large ones like Downing Centre Local Court, have safe waiting areas for witnesses and even remote rooms where some witnesses who may be under threat can give evidence over a video link.

What do I do when I get to court?

If you have never been to a court before, you may be unsure where to go when you get there. Courts are very large and busy places and there may be a lot of people milling around. When you arrive in the foyer of the court there will be a list of the matters that are to be heard that day, and the courtroom where they are being heard. If you can’t find your case on the list, or if you are still not sure where you need to go, you can speak to a member of staff – there is usually someone on duty to provide advice and answer questions.

How long will it take?

The length of time you will need to be at the court varies according to the complexity of the case and how crucial your evidence is. You may also have to wait a few hours for the hearing to actually start, so it is a good idea to bring a book and be prepared to spend the day at the court. Once you have given your evidence and have been cross-examined by the defence and prosecution, you will usually be allowed to go.

Although attending court can be time consuming and inconvenient, as a witness, your information could play a substantial part in helping the magistrate or jury make the right decision about a legal matter.

Why Is the Blood Alcohol Limit Zero for Provisional Licence Holders?

Drink driving charges are classed in a number of different ranges, from low to high range, and include a few special provisions. One of these special provisions is novice range drink driving, which is a specific charge aimed at deterring learner drivers and provisional licence holders from consuming any alcohol at all before getting behind the wheel. Experienced drink driving lawyers can help novice range drink drivers avoid conviction in some cases, but otherwise, novice range drink driving comes with a maximum fine of $1,100 for a first offence, and a minimum disqualification period of three months.

The prescribed limit for learner and provisional drivers is zero, which means that if you are a learner driver and you are caught driving with any alcohol at all in your system, you are liable for a fine and disqualification. Although the zero alcohol limit might seem excessive, there are a number of reasons why it has been put in place.

Driving is a skill that requires attention and co-ordination. To drive safely, you need to be able to focus on a number of different things at once, make quick decisions, and assess potential hazards accurately. When you are learning, or if you are a provisional driver without much experience, it can be more difficult to make the necessary decisions and multitask to a high enough level with even a small amount of alcohol in your system.

Alcohol affects your driving ability in a number of different ways, including impairment of vision, co-ordination, ability to assess situations, and spatial awareness. If you hold a learner or provisional licence, and you are going to be driving, it’s important to be extremely careful when it comes to consuming alcohol, and avoid the temptation to have even one drink.

Learner and provisional drivers also often get caught the day after drinking. If you have had a few drinks the night before, you might still have a small amount of alcohol in your system in the morning, and this can show up on a police breath test if you are pulled over.

It is easy to assume that you are fine to drive and all the alcohol has left your system, but it takes roughly an hour for each standard drink to clear your bloodstream. Sleeping doesn’t speed the process up, nor does drinking coffee or taking a shower. In addition to the possibility of still having alcohol in your system, driving with a hangover can impair your driving ability, and cause drowsiness, which can also lead to accidents.

As a learner or provisional driver, it is important to take the alcohol limits seriously. Even if you are careful, mistakes can happen and a lapse can lead to disqualification from driving and fines. You hopefully have a long future of driving ahead of you, and a criminal conviction for a driving offence can lead to challenges and limitations in years to come.

In the event that you do end up facing a charge of novice range drink driving, make sure you seek advice from experienced drink driving lawyers. A good lawyer can help you get the best outcome in your case, whether that is avoiding the maximum penalties for the charge, or even obtaining a finding of guilt, without a conviction being recorded.

What happens if I get caught driving without a licence?

There are a number of reasons why you might be caught driving without a licence. Your licence might have expired. If you have had your licence suspended or cancelled, or you have never held a licence, there can be more serious consequences if you are caught behind the wheel. If you have been accused of an unlicensed driving offence, it is important to speak to a lawyer. Experienced traffic lawyers Sydney wide can help you understand the charges you are facing, and make sure that you get the best possible outcome.

It is against the law in NSW to drive a vehicle without carrying a current driving licence. If you have been suspended, disqualified or have never had a licence, it is illegal for you to drive at all. Driving without a licence can incur more severe penalties if you have been suspended or disqualified, than if you have never had a licence.

  • If you have never held a driving licence, or haven’t held one in the previous five years, you can face a fine of $2,200. If you are caught again in a second or subsequent offence, you can be looking at up to $3,300, and a maximum prison term of 18 months.
  • If you have held a NSW driving licence in the previous two years, and you are driving illegally because you have failed to renew your licence and it has expired, you can expect a fine of $496 for a first offence, and $762 for a second or subsequent offence. If your licence expired more than two years ago, the fine is $596 for a first offence, and $1,191 for a second or subsequent offence.

If you have been disqualified, suspended or had your licence cancelled for any reason, and you are caught driving, there are more severe consequences. Disqualification from driving happens when you have been prohibited in court from holding a driving licence, while the Roads and Maritime Services (RMS), can impose a suspension, commonly as a result of having too many demerit points on your driving licence. Here is some more information on the different terms. The penalties for driving while disqualified or suspended are:

  • For a first offence, a minimum disqualification of 12 months, a maximum fine of $3,300, and maximum term of imprisonment of 18 months.
  • For a subsequent offence (within five years), you will be facing a minimum disqualification of two years, and a maximum fine of $5,500 with maximum imprisonment of two years.

Are you facing charges for driving without a licence? If so, try not to panic – there are mitigating circumstances in some cases, which might be able to help you avoid the worst case scenario for many of these charges.

Many people rely on driving for their employment and day to day life, so if you can reduce the severity of your charges, it can have a significant impact on your life and get you back on the road sooner rather than later.

If you have been charged with driving without a licence in NSW, it is essential that you seek advice from one or more experienced traffic lawyers Sydney wide. Drivers who are facing traffic charges of any kind need the highest quality legal advice from professionals who understand NSW traffic law and the legal system.

What is stalking?

Stalking has only recently been recognised as a criminal offence, and the term is one that is often surrounded by confusion. Many people are unsure exactly what activities constitute stalking from a criminal perspective, and what the penalties are. You can be charged with stalking as a stand-alone charge, or in conjunction with another offence such as harassment or intimidation.

From a legal perspective, stalking is “the following of a person about or the watching or frequenting of the vicinity of or an approach to a person’s place of residence, business or work or any place that a person frequents for the purposes of any social or leisure activity.” Stalking activities can lead to an apprehended violence order (AVO) if the victim has reason to fear physical or mental harm, and carry up to a five-year prison sentence if convicted. Stalking is generally accepted to be a way for one person to attempt to control another, or gain attention through repeated unwanted activities.

If you have been accused of stalking, or are in receipt of an AVO, it is a good idea to speak to a criminal lawyer. Sydney has a large number of experienced legal professionals who can help you defend yourself such as Sydney Criminal Lawyers, who are based in the heart of the city.

According to the NSW Police website some of the activities which can be defined as ‘stalking’ include:

  • Repeated telephone calls
  • Repeated text messaging
  • Repeatedly leaving messages on social media sites
  • Following another person
  • Leaving notes or flowers
  • Watching or staring at another person repeatedly

In some cases stalking can also be defined as:

  • Interfering with someone’s property repeatedly
  • Accosting someone in a public place
  • Giving offensive material to the victim
  • Hindering someone from carrying out their lawful occupation, trade or business

Stalking behaviour can be extremely intimidating to victims, which is why stalking charges are often associated with intimidation. Being stalked can make victims feel powerless, out of control and threatened, and can cause emotional distress and psychological damage.

What is the difference between stalking and harassment?

There is often a fine line between stalking and harassment. Harassment covers a number of different situations and contexts including sexual harassment, workplace harassment and discrimination, whereas stalking is very specific and relates to certain activities and behaviours. Harassment is defined by the NSW Law society as “any form of behaviour that you do not want; offends, humiliates or intimidates you; and creates a hostile environment.” Harassment can carry more severe penalties than stalking, depending on the severity of the case and the consequences for the victim.

What can I do if I am accused of stalking?

If you have been accused of stalking and served with an apprehended violence order (AVO), you can choose to defend yourself in court.

For a person to be convicted of stalking, it needs to be proven that they intended to cause the victim to fear physical or mental harm. This can be difficult to establish as in some cases it is may be possible that the person accused of stalking was not doing it with the intention of causing fear to the other person.

If you have been accused of stalking, or any other offence such as assault, you need to find experienced legal help to advise you on your best defence. Criminal lawyers Sydney wide are well equipped to discuss your situation, and provide legal assistance.

Understanding Assault Offences

There are different types of assault offences, with varying degrees of seriousness. According to The Law Handbook, each category of assault offence attracts its own penalty, depending on the seriousness of the offence. We look at the major categories of assault, the definitions and associated penalties.

Common Assault

Common assault is defined under s61 of the Crimes Act (NSW) as being any act that involves “touching another person without his or her consent” or “putting another person in fear for his or her immediate physical safety”. Therefore this type of assault can be said to have occurred without physical contact.

The penalty for common assault can be 12 months to two years imprisonment, and/or a fine.

Assault Occasioning Actual Bodily Harm

This type of assault is more serious than common assault. Assault occasioning actual bodily harm can be said to occur where the assault results in some sort of injury. Actual bodily harm does not have to be permanent or grievous, but it usually needs to be something more than a trifling injury, for example, a cut, sprain, or a fracture.

According to s59 of the Crimes Act (NSW), the term of imprisonment for this type of assault can be as much as five years. There may also be a fine imposed.

Assault/Resist Police

This type of assault is considered to be serious as it involves resisting and/or assaulting police officers. The act can include harassment, intimidation, or some other sort of assault.

The maximum term of imprisonment for this type of assault is five years, or seven years in cases of bodily harm. If the act occurs during a “public disorder”, the maximum term of imprisonment is also seven years.

Recklessly Cause Grievous Bodily Harm/Reckless Wounding

This is a very serious type of assault, which can attract a prison term of seven years up to a maximum of 14 years. Generally, to be charged with this you’ll need to have inflicted grievous bodily harm to another person. A reckless act needs to be more than carelessness, but it’s less than intentional. Generally, you need to have known, or should have known, that the act could result in the harm caused.

Cause Grievous Bodily Harm with Intent / Wounding with Intent

This type of assault is more serious than recklessly causing grievous bodily harm or recklessly wounding. Generally, to be charged with this you’ll need to have had a clear intention to cause the harm to another person, and the prosecution needs to prove this intent beyond reasonable doubt. The maximum penalty is 25 years imprisonment.

Defences

There are a number of defences to assault, including self-defence, duress, and necessity. Self-defence means you need to have believed the action was required to defend yourself or another person, or if it was necessary to protect property in some way. However, the act must have been reasonable or proportionate to the threat.

Duress is a defence that can be raised if you were forced to commit the act due to threat of serious harm or death. Necessity is another similar defence that can be raised if you had to perform the act to protect yourself (or another) against serious harm or death.

What to do if You’ve Been Charged

Legal Aid NSW recommends that you seek professional advice if you’ve received a Court Attendance Notice. It’s a good idea to contact a criminal lawyer as soon as possible, as soon as you know you’ve been charged, or even before you’re formally charged.

A criminal lawyer can give you invaluable advice on exploring the different options that may be available to you. You can get help with possible defences, and strategies, that might reduce the charge, or even result in a withdrawal of the charge that has been laid against you.

If you are facing assault charges in NSW, contact Sydney Criminal Lawyers for expert advice and representation. You can visit their website via the following link: http://www.sydneycriminallawyers.com.au/criminal/offences/assault/.

What are the Penalties for Drink Driving in NSW?

Police in NSW have the power to stop drivers and test for alcohol, and make arrests based on blood alcohol levels. NSW police conducted more than 4.5 million breath tests across the state in 2011. These are some of the penalties, from fines to jail terms, for drink driving in NSW.

Fines

Fines can range from $1,100 to $5,500, depending on a driver’s drink-driving history and the seriousness of the drink-driving offence.

High-Range PCA

According to the NSW Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) website, a high Prescribed Concentration of Alcohol (PCA) can result in a court-imposed fine of up to $3,300 if it’s a first offence, or $5,500 if it’s a second or subsequent offence.

A high-range PCA is defined by the RMS as a blood alcohol concentration of 0.15 or above. The maximum fine can also apply in a case where a driver refuses to take a breath test, hinders or obstructs the taking of a blood sample, or wilfully alters the alcohol concentration in their blood.

Mid-Range PCA

The lower the PCA, the less severe the penalty. For example, a mid-range PCA attracts a fine of up to $2,200 for the first offence, and $3,300 for second or subsequent offences. A mid-range PCA is associated with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 to less than 0.15.

Low Range PCA

A low-range PCA, where there is a blood alcohol concentration of 0.05 to less than 0.08, attracts a court-imposed fine of up to $1,100 for the first offence, and $2,200 for second or subsequent offences. These limits also apply to those who are convicted of novice range PCA, where there is a blood alcohol concentration above zero and below 0.02.

Licence Disqualification and Suspension

Those convicted of drink driving can face licence suspension and disqualification, along with a fine.

  • High-Range PCA. A high-range PCA can result in immediate licence suspension for 12 months or more for a first offence, and two years or more for a second or subsequent offence. In the absence of a specific court order, an automatic disqualification period of three years for a first offence, and five years for a second or subsequent offence, applies.
  • Mid-Range PCA. A mid-range PCA can result in immediate licence suspension for six months or more for a first offence, and 12 months or more for a second or subsequent offence. In the absence of a specific court order, an automatic disqualification period of 12 months for a first offence, and three years for a second or subsequent offence, applies.
  • Low-Range PCA. Drivers do not face immediate licence suspension, although a disqualification of three months to six months for a first offence, and six months or more for a second or subsequent offence, can be imposed. In the absence of a specific court order, an automatic disqualification period of six months for a first offence, and 12 months for a second or subsequent offence, applies.

Jail Time

The maximum jail term for high-range PCA offences is 18 months for first offences, or two years for a second or subsequent offence. For a mid range PCA, the maximum jail term is nine months (first offences) or 12 months (second or subsequent offence). The courts do not have the power to impose jail sentences for low range or novice range offences.

What to do When Facing Charges

If a driver has been charged with drink driving, the best course of action is usually to see a lawyer. A lawyer can help explore different options, and they can assist with preparing a case that might result in less onerous penalties. Whether a driver is facing a fine, jail time, or the prospect of going without their licence, they will want to make sure they have a lawyer who can help present the best possible case.

Visit Sydney Criminal Lawyers for highly respected and experienced drink driving lawyers in Sydney.

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