Methamphetamine dealers who can prove their addiction caused their drug-related offending could see up to 30 per cent shaved off their sentences, potentially more in some cases.
A landmark Court of Appeal ruling, released yesterday, seeks to hold those profiting from the P trade accountable, and suggests judges consider more leniency towards those with lesser roles in a drug network, particularly where there are addiction issues.
Poverty, deprivation and vulnerability will also be considered as potential mitigating factors.
Prominent Auckland defence layer Marie Dyhrberg, QC, called the move "a fantastic decision", adding that while "not everyone got their wish list", it is "a great step and a great recognition of what judges for have quite some time been doing as best as they can".
"It is finally formalising a very good approach to sentencing which, beforehand, focused on 'what is the quantity of the drugs?' You fit into a particular category, and personal circumstances play little part in drug dealing," Ms Dyhrberg told TVNZ1's Breakfast this morning.
"That is so flawed and so wrong, and it has been recognised by a lot of judges for a long time."
Ms Dyhrberg explained that judges have been "allowing the role of someone, where they fit in, to influence what the ultimate sentence will be".
She added that the courts have "taken the focus away from stricter deterrents ... gone back to the sentencing act, which does allow for rehabilitation, and allowing people to undergo rehabilitation programmes – proper programmes – and will delay sentencing for months and months and months."
The judgement, Ms Dyhrberg said, has "formalised something that we have been working towards for a long time".
She said lawyers and the courts must now look back at the flaws in the belief that imposing long sentences for drug dealing would deter dealers from the trade.
"Major prison sentences will not deter those who are, firstly, addicted to them themselves to some degree, and secondly, are indebted to those who supply them, so that's the big trap. They live for the drugs, they live day-to-day," she said.
"The more affluent ones – because methamphetamine use is right across society – those in the affluent suburbs who take a snort, they get on with their day, they get on with their lives. They don't come into the radar of the police. It is those who are in that low poverty line – they're the ones who get caught and end up going before the court and going to jail.
"Fortunately, the majority of people I come across – and some of them very middle-class, very right-wing, very Pākehā – are all saying, ‘We have to treat addiction as mental and health issues.'
"Addiction is not going to stop the crime rate – it’s going to make unhappy people, it's going to breed unhappy children, and the public – and this is one of the things the decision pointed out – is this attitude of the public and community is a lot more humane, a lot more understanding."
Ms Dyhrberg said the appeals court decision "will allow more people to avoid prison, or get lesser prison sentences, and it will couple it along with rehabilitation".
"Let's set up the rehabilitation. There's not enough programmes in houses at the moment, so hopefully, the more that the people are sentenced to rehabilitation, the more the need will be met in society, particularly in the provinces."
The provinces, she said, is where there is "a real lack of these programmes, and we are going to get people off the drug".
"Anyone who has been addicted, hooked in, indebted and gone to jail, and then given the opportunity of rehabilitation where they are now meaningful people - with their families, as parents, as siblings.
"Rehabilitation and going through the drug court is no walk in the park - it’s tough -but at least it is productive; at least it is turning people around and that’s who we want to target and that’s who deserve a much better life than addiction."