First strike for new crime law

NEW LAW: Upper Hutt man Dwyane Mercer is the first person to be warned under the "three strikes" law.
NEW LAW: Upper Hutt man Dwyane Mercer is the first person to be warned under the "three strikes" law.

An Upper Hutt man has been served with New Zealand's first warning under the controversial "three strikes" law after being convicted of groping a woman.

Dwyane Christopher Mercer, 32, was convicted in Upper Hutt District Court last week after pleading guilty to indecently assaulting his friend's partner. Indecent assault is one of 40 serious violent offences that attract "strikes" upon conviction. The law came into force on June 1.

However, there are concerns the policy would breach New Zealand's Bill of Rights and international obligations. Critics said some juries may be reluctant to convict because of a concern criminals would get an unfairly harsh sentence.

A spokesman from Corrections Minister Judith Collins' office yesterday confirmed Mercer's "strike" was the first in the country. There had been two more convictions under the legislation since.

Mercer, a landscape gardener, assaulted his victim after being offered a bed for the night after drinking, the court was told.

His partner of seven years, Vanisha Mercer, 25, supported him in court and was unhappy with the "strike". His three-year-old daughter and son, 6, were missing their father, who was in prison for the first time, she said. "I think it's unfair ... He was just drunk."

The new law was a good idea "for really bad people ... But he's not a bad person," she said.

"I reckon that if he had known the law had changed he wouldn't have [pleaded] guilty, because then he would have got his bail."

Judge Tom Broadmore warned Mercer he would be given a second strike if he committed another of the 40 offences, and would consequently serve a jail term without parole.

A third strike would bring a mandatory maximum sentence for that crime, also with no parole.

"You will have to tread very carefully in the future," the judge said.

Prosecuting Sergeant Neill Ford told the court Mercer went to the victim's house on June 11 after a night drinking and asked to use the toilet. He asked to stay the night and was allowed into the spare room, but later approached her in her bed and indecently assaulted her.

After she yelled out and threatened to call police, Mercer swore and called her a "slag" as he left. Mercer denied the assault when stopped by police.

Defence lawyer Phyllis Strachan said: "The touching was over clothing and I think that is important."

Mercer was also facing sentence for assaulting his mother while he was drunk, she said. His offending over the past 16 years was all alcohol-related. The judge remanded Mercer in custody until the sentencing hearing.

Last night Ms Collins said: "I hope that offenders reflect on their first strike, and decide it's not in their best interests to commit any more violent offences.

"If they continue to offend, their future will include many long, mandatory years in prison."

The Dominion Post