POLICE PURSUITS SKYE'S LAW
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Police pursuits are one of the most hotly debated policing topics in recent years due to the number of pursuits that have ended in serious accidents. Skye’s Law is the name given to legislation dealing with police pursuits after a high-speed police chase on New Year’s Eve 2009 resulted in the death of Skye Sassine, a 19 month old passenger in a car that was it by another vehicle attempting to avoid police.
Is police pursuit a serious offence?
In New South Wales, police pursuits are a serious criminal offence. They are covered under section 51B of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW). They may result in a criminal conviction, criminal record, prison sentence and period of disqualification. This can have a significant long term effect on your life, impacting on your employment, family law proceedings, carer responsibilities, car insurance, etc. If you have been charged with police pursuit offences or any other driving related related offences, contact our office for a free initial consultation.
Usually the offence of police pursuit is prosecuted in the Local Court. However, if the offence has resulted in the death of another person, it may be prosecuted in a higher court. It is up to the discretion of the prosecution whether your matter will be dealt with summarily or on indictment. In Australia, the prosecution is required to prove all elements of the offence beyond reasonable doubt.
If you are the driver of the vehicle and you:
Know, ought reasonably to know or have reasonable grounds to suspect that police officers are in pursuit of the vehicle and you are required to stop the vehicle, and
You do not stop the vehicle, and
You drive the vehicle recklessly or at speed or at manner dangerous to others,
You are guilty of an offence.
The maximum penalty for this offence is:
First offence = 3 years imprisonment and 3 years automatic disqualification period
Second or subsequent offence = 5 years imprisonment.
In addition to the charge of police pursuit, evading police may result in additional charges for criminal and traffic offences. These additional charges may be the result of your actions during the pursuit e.g. speeding, or your actions that lead to the pursuit e.g attempting to avoid a breath test.
Examples of additional offences include:
- Dangerous driving occasioning grievous bodily harm
- Dangerous driving occasioning death
- Drink driving
- Drunk driving
- Driving while disqualified
- Driving while suspended
For further information about these offences, click on the Traffic Offences link from the menu.
Police roadside powers
In NSW, police have a number of additional roadside powers when dealing with police pursuits.
- Number plate confiscation
A police officer has the power to confiscate your number plate for a period of 3 months if you are the registered owner of the vehicle involved in the pursuit. You can apply to the Local Court for early release of your number plates. For assistance to apply for early release, contact our office for a free initial consultation.
It is an offence to drive the vehicle if the number plate has been confiscated. Heavy penalties apply.
- Motor vehicle confiscation
A police officer has the power to confiscate your vehicle or require you to produce your vehicle at a specified place within 10 days. If you fail to produce the vehicle, you may be issued with a fine of $3,300 and Transport for NSW may suspend your vehicle’s registration for 3 months.
If you are the owner and driver of the vehicle, the vehicle may be impounded or the plates confiscated for 3 months for a first offence. If it is a second or subsequent offence, the vehicle may be forfeited to the Crown and sold for crash testing.
If you are not the owner of the vehicle, a suspension warning may be issued for a first offence. If your vehicle is involved in a second or subsequent offence, the registration may be suspended for 3 months.
Summary Court Process (Local Court):
If your matter is being dealt with summarily by the prosecution, your matter will appear in the Local Court. The Local Court process is as follows:
- Contact Jameson Law for a free initial consultation. If you are pleading guilty, we may be able to negotiate a less serious charge.
- Mention hearing: This is the first court date for your matter. It essentially brings it to the attention of the court. You can plead guilty at this stage after receiving legal advice and the matter will be finalised. If you plead not guilty, the court will adjourn your matter and set another court date. The court will set a date for each party to produce their evidence (brief mention)
- You should use this time to gather any supporting evidence such as character references.
- Brief mention: Each party must produce their evidence to the court and each other. Another court date will be set for hearing
- Hearing: both parties will present their argument to the court. The court will make their decision and issue a sentence where appropriate.
Local Court sentencing options:
There are many sentencing options available to the Local Court. These options are available where no serious injury or death has resulted from the police pursuit offence. Pleading guilty at the earliest opportunity may entitle you to a 25% reduction in your sentence. However, you should not plead guilty until you have received legal advice, to ensure the best possible outcome for your matter.
A section 10 is the best possible outcome in the event the court finds you guilty of a police pursuit offence. There are three orders available to the court under section 10 of the Crimes (Sentencing and Procedure) Act where the court believes it is inappropriate to further punish an offender.
- Section 10 (1) (a)- dismissal with no conviction recorded
- Section 10 (1) (b)- dismissal with no conviction on conditions set by the court. For example, not to commit an offence for a period of two years
- Section 10 (1) (c)- dismissal with no conviction on the condition that the offender enters into an intervention program. For example drug and alcohol counselling.
A section 10 is an acknowledgement of the court that you have committed an offence, however, the court is satisfied that it is out of character and you are unlikely to continue offending. It’s the court’s way of giving you a second chance.
Before granting a section 10, the court will consider:
- Your traffic history.
- Your character, antecedents, age, health and mental condition, etc
- The trivial nature of the offence
- Extenuating circumstances that lead to the offence being committed
- Any other matter the court considers relevant
Intensive Correction Order:
Intensive Corrections Orders are an option available to the court where a sentence of imprisonment is imposed on the condition that a defendant is of good behaviour and agrees to supervision by a community corrections officer rather than go to prison.
Additional conditions that may be imposed by the court include:
- home detention
- electronic monitoring
- community service (up to 750 hours)
- participation in rehabilitation or treatment programs, for example, drug treatment/counselling
- no drugs or alcohol
- refrain from certain relationships/associations, for example, drug dealer, etc.
- ban from certain locations
Community Correction Order:
Community Corrections Orders are similar to Intensive Corrections Orders. The main exception being that a defendant needs to make themselves available to attend court at any time the court requires.
Conditional Release Order:
A Conditional Release Order is similar to an Intensive Corrections Order or Community Corrections Order. A Conditional Release Order can be issued with or without a conviction recorded.
A section 32 is a diversionary option available under the Mental Health (Forensic Provisions) Act 1990 (NSW). If a defendant is, or at the time of the police pursuit offence occurred:
- cognitively impaired
- suffering from mental illness
- suffering from a mental condition for which treatment is available in a mental health facility
The options available to a magistrate under a section 32 include:
- adjourning the matter
- granting the defendant bail
- any other order the magistrate deems appropriate
- dismissing the charges and discharging the defendant into the care of a responsible person (e.g. a parent) on the condition they attend a specified place for assessment or treatment.
The above is general legal information and should not be considered legal advice. You should speak with one of our criminal lawyers for legal advice tailored to your specific legal matter. The penalties listed are maximum penalties. The courts deal with matters on a case by case basis. It should also be noted that there may be court delays due to COVID-19.
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Frequently Asked Questions.
Yes. Police have standard operating procedures (safe driving policy) they must follow when initiating a police pursuit. Only police who hold a silver or gold permit are allowed to initiate a pursuit. They must contact the communications centre once they have started the chase and relay information about speed, weather, road conditions, etc. The communications centre takes all of these variables into consideration rather than just the speed. They must be regularly updated and they have the power to terminate the pursuit if they deem it too dangerous. If a pursuit results in an accident and/or death, an internal investigation is conducted as well as report from the coroner to ensure police complied with their standard operating procedures and conducted the pursuit in a safe manner.
It will be fairly obvious if a police car is attempting to stop you while you are driving, even if it is an unmarked vehicle. Police will activate their lights and sirens. You are required by law to pull over to the left to let emergency vehicles pass you. If the police car follows you, you should stop where it is safe to do so.
There are standard operating procedures that must be followed if a police pursuit crosses state lines, for example from NSW into Canberra. Police must notify the police in the state they are entering and they must be aware of the pursuit procedures for that state or territory. The officer leading the pursuit or the officer supervising the pursuit can elect to discontinue the pursuit and hand over the matter to the police in the other jurisdiction or coordinate with them to continue the pursuit. Crossing state/territory borders does not automatically mean the pursuit will end.
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