Chapter 11
Sentencing for homicide

Sentencing for manslaughter

11.69The maximum sentence for manslaughter is life imprisonment. There is no minimum sentence, and sentencing is highly fact dependent.

11.70Where manslaughter results from the deliberate infliction of injury, an established approach is for the judge to begin with the bands for grievous bodily harm established in R v Taueki.1024 This reflects the fact that manslaughter is inadvertent killing and, as such, the focus should be on the action that caused the death and not only the result. For example, in R v Leuta the Court of Appeal stated:1025

In sentencing in cases of violent offending the element of deterrence must be directed towards the aspect of the conduct of the offender which was intentional and which created the risk of serious harm or death. In the case of manslaughter the likely deterrent effect of sterner sentences must be measured against that aspect, not against the unintended consequence of death.

11.71This ensures a level of consistency in how manslaughter offending is treated compared with the position if the same action had not resulted in death. There have been exceptional cases where following a guilty plea, an offender has been discharged without conviction.1026 At the other end of the spectrum, cases of severe child abuse leading to death commonly result in terms of over 10 years’ imprisonment and, in one case, 16 years’ imprisonment.1027
1024R v Taueki, above n 967. For comments on this approach, see R v Tae [2010] NZCA 598 at [11]–[23]; and Ioata v R [2013] NZCA 235 at [24]–[31].
1025R v Leuta [2002] 1 NZLR 215 (CA) at [63].
1026For example R v X [2015] NZHC 1244, in which a mother inadvertently caused the death of her 16-month-old son after leaving him unattended in a car on a hot day. She had been working late several days in a row and forgot he was in the car, as her husband usually dropped him at childcare in the morning.
1027R v Witika [1993] 2 NZLR 424 (CA). The courts have also made it clear that, if a particular manslaughter is at “the top end of conceivable culpability”, the maximum sentence of life imprisonment may be imposed: R v Lory [2005] 1 NZLR 462 (CA) at [12].