The New “Coward Punch” Laws In NSW

NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell introduced the Crimes and Other Legislation Amendment (Assault and Intoxication) Bill 2014 (NSW) (Bill) into parliament last week. This Bill represents the government’s proposed new laws in response to lethal punches – recently dubbed “coward punches” – which have taken place particularly in Sydney’s in suburbs such as King’s Cross and the CBD in an attempt to curb drug and alcohol-fuelled violence.

These laws, if enacted, would impose mandatory minimum terms of imprisonment on various drug and alcohol related assaults. The relevant minimum sentences include fatal one punch attacks (8 years), sexual assault (5 years), affray (4 years), reckless wounding (3 years) and assaulting police in the execution of their duty (2 years).

Part 11A of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) (Act) already deals with intoxication and its relevance with respect to certain criminal offences. Interestingly, the Bill includes a provision that people will be presumed intoxicated if they register a blood-alcohol concentration level of 0.15 – being the equivalent the lower limit for a high-range drink-driving offence and three times the lower limit for a low-range drink-driving offence. The police will also be able to continue using the more flexible definition of intoxication under the Act which allows them to form a view that someone is intoxicated based on evidence such as slurred speech and unsteady walking.

It remains to be seen how the proposed new laws relating to mandatory minimum sentences are received. The laws will need to be considered in context of section 3A of the Act which sets out the various factors the court must take into account when undertaking the sentencing exercise, including adequate punishment for the offence, specific and general deterrence, protection to the community, promote rehabilitation, accountability, denunciation of the offence and recognise the harm caused to the victim and community.

The above is not intended as legal advice. You should obtain legal advice in relation to your own specific circumstances.

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