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Toddler Killed After High-Speed Chase

, Toddler Killed After High-Speed Chase

Toddler Killed After High-Speed Chase

A senior police officer has vehemently defended his participation in a high-speed pursuit of a wanted man through a western Sydney residential suburb after a 17-month-old girl was killed. The story follows that a stolen Audi which burst through a Colourbond fence and mowed down the toddler in January 2015. After an inquest was held at Lidcombe Coroners Court, the senior police officer explained that he was responsible for leading the operation which tried to stop the stolen vehicle. The man behind the wheel has been identified as Christopher Chandler who at the time of the pursuit, was also wanted for armed robberies. The then 22-year-old has since been jailed for the crash but the loss of the innocent 17-month-old girl has raised questions on the police power to stop vehicles when there is a grave danger to community safety.

“CHANCES OF PERFORMING A SAFE VEHCILE STOP REMOTE”

The rules surrounding police pursuits were discussed as a result of the death a toddler named Skye Sassine. Sky Sassine was killed as a result of a high-speed police chase on New Year Eve in 2009. Tougher penalties were introduced to deal with police pursuits and it is now known as “Skye’s Law”.

According to the ‘National Guideline on urgent duty driving and pursuits’, there are circumstances where police must call off a pursuit if:

  1. There is no urgent need to apprehend the vehicle where:
    a. Apprehending the suspect is necessary to prevent a serious risk to public health/safety; and/or
    b. A criminal offence has been or is about to be committed which involves serious injury to a person.
  2. If there is a feasible alternative means to apprehending the suspect vehicle; and
  3. If the overall harm to the public is greater than the harm the pursuit is attempting to prevent.

In determining the risk of the pursuit to the public, police must take into account the speed of the vehicle, the erratic nature of the driving, whether the pursuit is in highly populated areas, if the pursuit will be near schools and the weather.

Section 148C of the Road Transport Act 2013 (NSW) gives police the power to use tyre deflation devices to stop or assist in the stopping of a vehicle in connection with the pursuit of a vehicle by police. It can also be used to prevent the use of a vehicle by a person escaping custody or arrest. Such devices can be used if the harm or risk can be minimized.

During the inquest, the officer confirmed that the stolen Audi was travelling “as fast as the vehicle could go”. The inquest then heard that due to the speed the vehicle was travelling, the chances of a safe vehicle stop in the suburban area was limited. Despite ploughing through the Colourbond fence, police officers in pursuit of the Audi maintained their belief that the vehicle could still be stopped safely.

Whilst there are various police ‘guidelines’ which contain policies about when police are empowered to conduct a high-speed pursuit, the current approach merely dictates a criterion of when officers are required to consider community safety and other factors.

WHAT ARE THE PENALTIES UNDER SKYE’S LAW?

As ‘Police Pursuit’ is a criminal offence, the prosecution must prove the offence beyond reasonable doubt.

According to section 51B of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW), an offender may be liable for 3 years imprisonment if:

(1) The driver of a vehicle:

(a) who knows, ought reasonably to know or has reasonable grounds to suspect that police officers are in pursuit of the vehicle and that the driver is required to stop the vehicle, and

(b) who does not stop the vehicle, and

(c) who then drives the vehicle recklessly or at a speed or in a manner dangerous to others, is guilty of an offence.

The penalty increases to a maximum of 5 years imprisonment if the offence is a second or subsequent occasion.

CASE STUDY

Our client was involved in a police pursuit. We represented our client where we argued that his case should be dealt with by way of the relevant mental health provisions under the Mental Health (Criminal Procedure) Act 1900 (NSW). Our client’s case was that he was off his prescribed medication for his chronic Schizophrenia condition and had an attack of paranoia and when asked to stop by.  A psychological report was prepared which detailed our client’s condition and the legal argument. The Local Court Magistrate agreed with the defence’s submissions and dismissed the charges under the relevant mental health provisions.

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