Last weekend, a 33 year old Sydney man was charged with the offence of “police pursuit” following a lengthy chase that saw police following the man through the M2, M5 and M7 motorways.
The man then continued over the Harbour Bridge, despite police having deployed road spikes at the Gore Hill freeway.
Eventually, he was arrested conveniently outside Surry Hills police station after police fired a chemical agent through the car’s windscreen.
It is believed the man fled a Kensington apartment after police attended in response to a stabbing incident.
He was later charged with the offences of wound with intent, sexual assault and police pursuit.
So what are the laws surrounding police pursuits, and how do they apply in NSW?
The offence of “police pursuit,” also known as Skye’s law, is a relatively recent amendment to the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW).
It came about after 19 month old Skye Sassine was tragically killed in a car accident during a police chase on New Years’ Eve in 2009, when two men fleeing the scene of a bank robbery crashed into the car she was travelling in.
Section 51B of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) now states that you can be charged with the offence of “police pursuit” if you:
- Drove a car;
- Knew or ought reasonably to have known that police were pursuing you;
- Did not stop;
- That you drove in a manner or at a speed that was dangerous, or that you drove recklessly after the pursuit commenced.
If you’re found guilty of “police pursuit,” you will automatically be disqualified from driving for a period of 3 years.
However, with the help of a good traffic lawyer, you may be able to have the disqualification period reduced to the minimum of 12 months even if you plead guilty.
Alternatively, a top lawyer may be able to force police to drop the charge on the basis that they are unable to prove one or more of the above requirements beyond reasonable doubt.
In that case, police may offer to withdraw the charge on the basis that you plead guilty to a less serious charge such as negligent driving or speeding by more than 45km/h.
The maximum penalties for “police pursuit” will depend on whether you have been convicted of a “major traffic offence” in the past 5 years.
A major traffic offence is any traffic offence for which you received a court attendance notice for.
If it’s your first major traffic offence in the past five years, the maximum penalty is three years imprisonment.
However, if it’s your second or subsequent major traffic offence in five years, the maximum penalty is five years imprisonment.
If it’s your third major traffic offence in the past five years, you may also be declared to be a “Habitual Traffic Offender.”
This means that the RMS (formerly the RTA) is able to add another five years on to any court imposed disqualification period.
It’s important to remember that while these are very heavy penalties, they are the maximum penalties only and will only apply in the most serious cases.
Statistics show that there have been 933 “police pursuit cases” before the courts in the last 4 years.
In 41% of cases, the defendant received a prison sentence, and a further 19% received a suspended prison sentence.
Out of the 933 cases, only one person received a “section 10,” which means that while they were found guilty of the offence, they did not receive a conviction on their criminal record.
That amazing result was achieved by our Jimmy Singh, one of our highly experienced senior traffic lawyers, who fought hard to secure this outstanding outcome by arguing that she desperately required her licence for work purposes.
Our client was driving at 213km/h in a 110km/h speed zone when police began following her.
After briefly slowing down, she then sped up to a speed of 216km/h and a police pursuit spanning six kilometres ensued.
Mr Singh assisted her in obtaining character references and a psychologist’s report which assisted her case.
Not only did our client walk away without a conviction on her criminal record – which may have impeded her ability to work or travel – but she also avoided losing her licence and having to pay heavy fines.
This case demonstrates the value of securing an experienced traffic law specialist when it comes to fighting your police pursuit matter in court.