One-punch laws: Intoxication to be defined based on on high-range drink-driving levels

People will be presumed to be intoxicated under the government's proposed one-punch laws if they have blood-alcohol levels equivalent to those used to charge people with high-range drink-driving offences.

On Thursday Premier Barry O'Farrell introduced the Crimes and Other Legislation Amendment (Assault and Intoxication) Bill 2014, which says people will be presumed intoxicated if they register a blood-alcohol concentration level of .15 - three times the .05 level used to measure low-range drink-driving offences. The police will also be able to continue using a more flexible definition of intoxication under the NSW Crimes Act, which allows them to form a view that someone is intoxicated based on evidence such as slurred speech and unsteady walking.

The legislation, to be reviewed in three years, was expected to be passed with the support of the Labor opposition. Mr O'Farrell said the purpose of the bill was ''to make our streets safer by introducing new measures to tackle drug and alcohol-related violence''.

The bill creates a new offence for a person who is not intoxicated who will face a maximum penalty of 20 years in jail for hitting a person and causing their death, whether or not they died as a result of the injuries received directly from the assault or from hitting the ground or another object.

It also creates a separate offence with a minimum mandatory sentence of eight years and a maximum of 25 years in jail for an assault causing death if the offence is committed by an intoxicated adult.

Lawyers said the eight-year minimum sentence was effectively a non-parole period, making the minimum sentence about 11 years, applying sentencing laws. The bill says there will be a ''conclusive presumption of intoxication'' with a blood-alcohol concentration of .15 or any level of drug concentration.

Alex Wodak, emeritus consultant and former director at St Vincent's Hospital's alcohol and drug service unit, said the .15 blood-alcohol level was an arbitrary measure in the context of alcohol-fuelled violence.

He said because some people had higher alcohol tolerance levels than others, there was a risk innocent people might be found guilty.

''Some will be unconscious at this blood level and most will be very drunk. But some drinking, say, three bottles of wine per day, might be little affected by it,'' he said.

The proposed law requires a breath test be taken within two hours, and a blood or urine sample within four hours, of the alleged offence.

Alex Steel, a criminal law expert from the University of NSW, said the new offence was broader than ''coward punches'' and included everyone who caused a person's death as a result of a fight.

''If an intoxicated person is goaded and provoked into a fight - even if they don't throw the first punch - they could be facing mandatory imprisonment,'' he said.

The government's bill also amends the Liquor Act to introduce 1.30am lockouts and 3am last drinks for pubs and clubs in a newly defined ''CBD entertainment precinct'' blanketing the city centre, Kings Cross and Darlinghurst.

Small bars with capacity for up to 120 people will be captured as they have a general bar licence. But small bars for fewer than 60 people are exempt. Also exempt are restaurants and ''tourism accommodation establishments'' such as hotels with more than 20 rooms.

The director-general has been given powers to exempt premises, on payment of a fee, if there is a ''negligible risk of alcohol-related violence'' or violence is unlikely to increase. The bill introduces a system of ''risk-based licensing'', whereby licensees will be required to pay a fee based on factors including location, trading hours, capacity and violence history.

Shadow attorney-general Paul Lynch said Attorney-General Greg Smith was forced to amend the bill after he realised it would result in sentences of less than eight years.

"The provisions to determine intoxication are a return to the bad old days of Driving Under the Influence (DUI) with all of its unsatisfactory aspects as to proof and lack of consistency.

"You’ll now be guilty depending upon what you look like," Mr Lynch said.

Greens MP John Kaye said the new measures would not reduce alcohol-related violence and predicted the problem would spread to other areas.

"Surry Hills, Chippendale, Bondi Junction and Balmain will become late-night hot spots with even more problems than Kings Cross and the CBD," he said.

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