Section 51B of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) was enacted to penalize drivers who flee from police officers at a high speed in order to avoid arrest. The offence is known as Skye’s Law, named for toddler Skye Sassine who was killed when a fleeing driver crashed into her parent’s car in 2009.
Ironically, a deputy coroner who conducted an inquest into Skye’s death was critical of the pursuing officer. According to the deputy coroner, the officer drove as if “he thought he was on a race track and determined to be first past the winning post.” The officer “drove in utter disregard for the requirements imposed upon him” by state policy, yet Skye’s Law does nothing to address unsafe police pursuits. Only the driver who is being pursued can be prosecuted under section 51B.
Proof of the offence
To obtain a conviction under section 51B, the prosecution must prove three facts beyond a reasonable doubt:
- The driver of a vehicle knew, should have known, or had good reason to suspect that police were pursuing the driver and that the driver was required to stop.
- The driver did not stop.
- The driver then drove recklessly or at a speed or in a manner that was dangerous to others.
The law applies to all motorized vehicles and to all other vehicles that are powered by means other than human or animal energy. It also applies to horse-drawn carts.
The maximum penalty for a first conviction under section 51B is 3 years of imprisonment. The maximum penalty for a second or subsequent conviction is 5 years of imprisonment. A conviction also requires a licence disqualification.
Defences to the charge
A driver might defend against the charge by arguing that:
- The driver was unaware of, and had no reason to be aware of, any pursuit.
- The driver was aware of a pursuing vehicle but had no reason to believe that the vehicle was operated by the police.
- The driver was aware of the police pursuit but reasonably believed the police were pursuing someone else so that the driver was not required to stop.
- The driver’s speeding or reckless driving occurred before, not after, the pursuit.
- Although failing to stop, the driver did not drive recklessly or at a dangerous speed.
- Circumstances (such as a need to get to a hospital quickly) gave the driver no choice but to drive quickly despite being pursued by the police.
- A passenger coerced the driver by the threat of violence to flee from the police.
A lawyer can review the evidence and, after listening to your side of the story, can advise you about the best defence to the charge.
Courts take section 51B prosecutions very seriously. In some cases, it may be possible to have the charge dismissed after a conviction, but most cases result in a penalty. In nearly half of all cases, that penalty involves a full-time custodial sentence.
If you are accused of a police pursuit offence, you should obtain immediate legal advice. It is critical to begin investigating the facts and preparing a defence as soon as you are arrested or suspect that you might be arrested.
Disclaimer : This article is just a summary of the subject matter being discussed and should not be regarded as a comprehensive legal advice for you to defend yourself alone. If you are charged with criminal offences, it is recommended that you seek legal assistance from criminal lawyers.