New Zealand Law Society - Conviction, sentencing and imprisonment of adults in 2019

Conviction, sentencing and imprisonment of adults in 2019

By Geoff Adlam

Three-quarters of the prosecutions of adults in District and High Courts where there was an outcome resulted in convictions in 2019. One-fifth were “not proved” – which includes where a person was acquitted or discharged, or where the charge was dismissed or withdrawn.

This information comes from Statistics New Zealand’s annual statistics on criminal convictions and sentencing for the 2019 calendar year. The data is provided by the Ministry of Justice and the information for a centre includes both District Court and High Court where applicable.

The data shows some distinct variations in conviction rates when analysed by gender, age, ethnicity, sentencing court and the type of offence.

Of the 204,341 cases in District and High Courts where adults were prosecuted, 75% had an outcome resulting in a conviction. A further 4% of charges were “other proved” but not recorded as convictions – these included where Police offered diversion or the person was discharged without conviction under section 105 of the Sentencing Act 2002. Most of the rest – 20% – were “not proved”. A very small proportion of cases (“other”) resulted in a stay of proceeding, the person being found unfit to stand trial or acquitted on account of insanity.

Adult outcomes in New Zealand courts by calendar year

Outcome Total 2019 % 2019 Total 2018 % 2018
Convicted 153,795 75.3% 158,563 76.1%
Other proved 8,018 3.9% 7,807 3.7%
Not proved 41,784 20.4% 41,232 19.8%
Other 744 0.4% 754 0.4%
Total 204,341 100.0% 208,356 100.0%

The data goes back an impressive 39 years to 1980. A general trend seems to have been a gradual fall then rise in the proportion of convictions, balanced by a rise then fall in “not proved”.

Outcome 1980 1985 1990 1995 2000 2005 2010 2015 2019
Convicted 79% 67% 75% 73% 70% 69% 73% 76% 75%
Other proved 1% 1% 1% 1% 2% 6% 6% 4% 4%
Not proved 14% 27% 23% 26% 29% 25% 21% 19% 20%
Other 6% 5% 0.4% 0.4% 0.1% 0.1% 0.2% 0.4% 0.4%

Convictions by type of offence

Obviously the type of offence has a bearing on likelihood of conviction. When outcomes are considered by offence category there is a wide variation overall.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, driving offences have the highest conviction rate – there are few shades of grey. Against the overall conviction rate of 75%, 91% of all traffic and vehicle regulatory offences resulted in conviction. The highest rate for any single offence was exceeding the prescribed content of alcohol or other substance limit in a vehicle – with 95% of prosecutions resulting in conviction.

The lowest conviction rates were for sexual assaults and related offences. A high 45% of these were not proved and 52% resulted in conviction. Fewer than half the prosecutions for the single offences of both non-aggravated and aggravated sexual assault resulted in conviction.

Homicide had one of the highest conviction rates in 2019 (at 74%), but in 2018 was one of the lowest, at 64% convicted and 29% not proved.

Outcomes for categories of adult offences prosecuted to a conclusion in 2019

Category Outcomes Convicted Other Proved Not Proved
Most likely to be convicted        
Traffic & vehicle regulatory 38,098 90.8% 1.7% 7.4%
Theft & related offences 22,032 80.1% 3.3% 16.4%
Offences against justice, govt security 44,330 78.2% 1.2% 20.5%
Dangerous or negligent acts 11,563 77.9% 10.6% 11.4%
Homicide 236 74.2% 0.4% 23.3%
Property damage, environmental pollution 7,531 72.4% 10.1% 16.8%
Least likely to be convicted        
Sexual assault & related offences 4,925 52.0% 1.2% 45.0%
Prohibited & regulated weapons, explosives 5,455 62.9% 3.0% 33.5%
Acts intended to cause injury 22,842 62.1% 8.9% 28.0%
Robbery, extortion 1,138 62.6% 0.6% 35.7%
Abduction, harassment 5,255 63.3% 4.4% 31.7%
Total Outcomes 204,341 75.3% 3.9% 20.4%

Outcomes for single adult offences prosecuted to a conclusion in 2019

Category Outcomes Convicted Other Proved Not Proved
Most likely to be convicted        
Exceeding prescribed content of alcohol or other substance in vehicle 17,293 94.9% 1.3% 3.8%
Driving licence offences 15,945 88.6% 2.2% 9.2%
Illegal use of property (except motor vehicles) 91 86.8% 4.4% 8.8%
Exceeding legal speed limit 1,155 85.6% 4.4% 8.8%
Theft (except motor vehicles) 14,199 85.2% 3.4% 11.2%
Least likely to be convicted        
Offences against government security 10 30.0% 0.0% 50.0%
Abduction and kidnapping 315 32.4% 0.0% 67.3%
Attempted murder 18 44.4% 0.0% 44.4%
Blackmail and extortion 143 45.5% 0.7% 53.1%
Non-aggravated sexual assault 620 47.3% 2.6% 47.9%
Aggravated sexual assault 3,421 47.4% 0.3% 50.0%

Differences by court

Over the whole country in 2019 in individual courts there was a difference of over 25% between the proportion of cases which resulted in a conviction. In Waihi District Court during 2019, 87.5% of outcomes resulted in a conviction. In the Wellington District and High Courts, 63.2% of outcomes resulted in a conviction.

Proportion of outcomes resulting in a conviction, highest 2019

Courts Total outcomes Convicted % Convicted
Waihi 817 715 87.5%
Marton 337 294 87.2%
Te Kuiti 585 508 86.8%
Opotiki 739 631 85.4%
Taumarunui 405 342 84.4%

Proportion of outcomes resulting in a conviction, lowest 2019

Courts Total outcomes Convicted % Convicted
Kaikōura 56 35 62.5%
Wellington 7,179 4,535 63.2%
Queenstown 1,026 650 63.4%
Greymouth 1,066 689 64.6%
Auckland 20,336 13,469 66.2%
Dunedin 4,106 2,771 67.5%

The very small Kaikōura District Court apart, Queenstown District Court had the biggest proportion of “other proved” (diversion or discharge without conviction) outcomes in 2019 (and 2018), at over 22% of all outcomes. At the other end of the scale was the District Court in Kaitaia and Kaikohe. Nationally, 3.9% of outcomes were in this category.

Proportion of outcomes resulting in an “other proved” finding, highest 2019

Courts Total outcomes Other proved % Other proved
Kaikōura 56 13 23.2%
Queenstown 1,026 228 22.2%
Alexandra 434 63 14.5%
Levin 2,010 215 10.7%
Greymouth 1,066 100 9.4%
Dunedin 4,106 308 7.5%

Proportion of outcomes resulting in an “other proved” finding, lowest 2019

Courts Total outcomes Other proved % Other proved
Chatham Islands 61 0 0.0%
Kaitaia 1,888 29 1.5%
Kaikohe 2,669 43 1.6%
Whangārei 6,083 100 1.6%
Rotorua 6,873 123 1.8%
Whanganui 3,073 61 2.0%

Wellington District and High Courts had the highest proportion of “not proved” outcomes (30%), with Marton District Court the lowest (8.6%). Nationally, 20.4% of outcomes were “not proved”.

Proportion of outcomes resulting in a “not proved” finding, highest 2019

Courts Total outcomes Not proved % Not proved
Wellington 7,179 2,155 30.0%
Auckland 20,336 5,812 28.6%
Blenheim 2,203 596 27.1%
Chatham Islands 61 16 26.2%
Greymouth 1,066 277 26.0%
Gisborne 4,176 1,048 25.1%

Proportion of outcomes resulting in a “not proved” finding, lowest 2019

Courts Total outcomes Not proved % Not proved
Marton 337 29 8.6%
Te Kuiti 585 57 9.7%
Taumarunui 405 41 10.1%
Waihi 817 84 10.3%
Westport 286 35 12.2%
Taupo 1,822 223 12.2%

Ethnicity and sentences

In 2019, Māori adults comprised 44% of adults convicted of an offence where ethnicity was known (in 10% of convictions it was recorded as unknown), but made up 62% of adults who were sentenced to imprisonment. The Statistics New Zealand information shows the most serious offence. Information for people of Asian ethnicity has been included for the first time.

Of people of Māori ethnicity who were convicted of an offence during 2019, 16.4% were sentenced to imprisonment for their most serious offence. In contrast, 11.4% of Pacific People, 10.0% of Europeans, 8.4% of Asians and 13.6% of other ethnicities were sentenced to imprisonment.

People of Māori ethnicity who were convicted in 2019 were also most likely to receive a community-based sentence for their most serious offence. That also means that over half – 51.4% – of all sentences imposed in 2019 where there was some control on liberty (imprisonment or community-based) were imposed on people of Māori ethnicity. With the ethnicity of 10% of people convicted not recorded, this means this is an “at least” statistic.

Updated data released on 5 March 2020 for Census 2018 showed that 70.2% of the population identified as European, 16.5% as Māori, 15.1% as Asian, 8.1% as Pacific Peoples and 4.0% as other ethnicities (with people often identifying with more than one ethnicity).

Adults convicted by sentence type (most serious offence), 2019

Sentence European Māori Pacific Asian Other Unknown Total
Convicted 21,175 24,969 5,702 1,946 1,054 5,566 57,065
Imprisonment 2,124 4,087 648 163 143 118 6,646
Community 9,878 12,244 2,686 733 493 838 25,111
Monetary 6,769 5,281 1,592 860 296 4,023 18,274
Other 1,362 1,630 379 107 66 272 3,617
None recorded 1,042 1,727 397 83 56 315 3,417

Proportion of sentences imposed by ethnicity (most serious offence), 2019

Sentence European Māori Pacific Asian Other Unknown
Convicted 37.1% 43.8% 10.0% 3.4% 1.8% 9.8%
Imprisonment 32.0% 61.5% 9.8% 2.5% 2.2% 1.8%
Community 39.3% 48.8% 10.7% 2.9% 2.0% 3.3%
Monetary 37.0% 28.9% 8.7% 4.7% 1.6% 22.0%
Other 37.7% 45.1% 10.5% 3.0% 1.8% 7.5%
None recorded 30.5% 50.5% 11.6% 2.4% 1.6% 9.2%

Sentence imposed on conviction for each ethnicity (most serious offence), 2019

Sentence European Māori Pacific Asian Other Unknown Total
Imprisonment 10.0% 16.4% 11.4% 8.4% 13.6% 2.1% 11.6%
Community 46.6% 49.0% 47.1% 37.7% 46.8% 15.1% 44.0%
Monetary 32.0% 21.2% 27.9% 44.2% 28.1% 72.3% 32.0%
Other 6.4% 6.5% 6.6% 5.5% 6.3% 4.9% 6.3%
None recorded 4.9% 6.9% 7.0% 4.3% 5.3% 5.7% 6.0%

There were also regional differences when it came to the Justice Service Area where an imprisonment sentence was imposed. The table shows that in the Taitokerau service area (courts in Dargaville, Kaikohe, Kaitaia and Whangārei) imprisonment comprised 11.9% of sentences imposed on Europeans for their most serious offence, 17.6% of all sentences imposed on Māori, 17.4% on Pacific Peoples and 5.3% of all sentences imposed on Asians. Overall, 13.8% of all sentences imposed for the most serious offence in the service area was imprisonment (including other and unknown ethnicities).

Proportion of imprisonment sentences imposed, 2019 for most serious offence

Justice Service Area European Māori Pacific Asian All
Taitokerau 11.9% 17.6% 17.4% 5.3% 13.8%
Waitemata 7.4% 15.4% 10.9% 4.5% 7.9%
Auckland 13.1% 22.2% 16.3% 13.6% 13.4%
South Auckland 7.9% 12.7% 8.3% 5.9% 8.3%
Waikato 12.1% 18.5% 14.5% 7.6% 13.5%
Bay of Plenty 9.5% 16.2% 6.2% 9.5% 11.9%
Waiariki 15.4% 22.1% 24.0% 12.8% 18.3%
East Coast 7.6% 14.9% 13.8% 8.6% 11.6%
Taranaki/Whanganui 10.1% 15.8% 15.9% 16.7% 11.2%
Manawatu/Wairarapa 10.8% 16.1% 10.2% 10.5% 11.8%
Northern Wellington 7.8% 10.8% 5.8% 5.8% 7.3%
Wellington 10.9% 19.7% 16.3% 3.8% 12.4%
Nelson/Marlborough 5.8% 9.5% 13.2% 3.2% 5.7%
Canterbury 11.2% 15.5% 11.9% 10.8% 10.4%
Otago 11.3% 19.3% 15.5% 8.3% 10.9%
Southland 8.8% 13.4% 6.1% 7.9% 8.0%
           
Total New Zealand 10.0% 16.4% 11.4% 8.4% 11.6%

Age and Gender

Overall, in 2019 men made up 78.8% of adults convicted (most serious offence). There was relatively little difference between men and women over age groups.

There were some age differences between ethnicities. Half of Pacific women and men convicted in 2019 were aged under 30, the highest proportions. A higher proportion of European women and men were aged 40 or more on conviction.

Imprisonment

Department for Corrections information shows that at 31 December 2019, New Zealand had a prison population of 9,857 of whom 93.2% were male. Prisoners were held in 18 institutions, with the largest being Rimutaka Prison (1,021 prisoners), Mount Eden Corrections Facility (950) and Auckland South Corrections Facility (913). Remand prisoners made up 36.4% of the prison population, up from 30.1% a year earlier.

New Zealand prison population, 31 December 2019

Category Male Female Total
Remand 3,322 270 3,592
Sentenced 5,869 396 6,265
Total 9,191 666 9,857

Of those in prison, 31.4% were aged under 30.

Over half those imprisoned were of Māori ethnicity. Prisoners of Asian ethnicity were recorded separately until the 30 June 2016 statistics, when they were included in “Other”.

Ethnicity of those in prison, 31 December 2019 and 2018

Ethnicity Proportion 2019 Proportion 2018
European 31.1% 31.7%
Māori 51.8% 51.0%
Pacific People 11.7% 11.2%
Other 5.2% 4.6%
Unknown 0.2% 2.5%
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