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Family violence: Repeat offender Jamie Clark strangled partner into unconsciousness, but argued jail term was too long

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Jamie Dale Henry Clark had a history of violence against partners.

This article deals with intimate partner violence and may be distressing.

A repeat offender who strangled his partner until she was unconscious, then attacked her again when she woke up, has argued his jail term was too long.

Jamie Dale Henry Clark, 34, had been in a casual relationship with the woman for about three months when he attacked her in the early hours of a Sunday in May 2023. They had been drinking at a bar earlier.

After being angered by something she said, Clark grabbed the woman’s face, threw her onto a bed, climbed on top of her and forced his elbow into her neck for two or three minutes, according to court documents.

He then turned her onto her stomach, lay on her back and placed her in a chokehold until she lost consciousness and control of her bodily functions.

Later, after she had woken up, Clark grabbed her again by the face, pushed her onto a couch and held her there for about 40 seconds.

The woman received injuries to her eyes, bruising to her throat, scratches to her face, a sore neck, and a sore throat.

Clark appeared in the Masterton District Court on representative charges of strangulation and assault on a person in a family relationship.

Judge Arthur Tompkins sentenced Clark to two years and five months in prison.

Clark appealed his sentence to the High Court, saying the judge erred in not making an allowance for personal factors contained in a cultural report and an alcohol and drug report.

His lawyer, Hunter de Groot, said if all mitigating factors, including Clark’s remorse, were taken into account, he should have got a sentence of 22 and a half months in prison – six and a half months less than he received.

Justice Matthew Palmer agreed the sentencing judge erred in not addressing personal mitigating factors in Clark’s background. These involved abuse, drugs and alcohol.

There were also “clear signs” Clark had led a productive life and abstained from drugs and alcohol at times. He did not offend between 2012 and 2019.

However, he also said Clark had an “extensive” criminal history, including violent offending and family violence.

In 2020, he was sentenced to five months in prison for assault on a person in a family relationship, assaulting a child and breaching a protection order. In the same year, he was also convicted and discharged for assaulting a female.

“And this [latest] offending was not all purely instinctive,” Justice Palmer said.

“After choking her to the point that the victim lost consciousness and control of her bodily functions, Mr Clark grabbed her again when she tried to leave, and held her down for about 40 seconds.”

All this raised a question about whether Clark’s actions were still affected by his disadvantaged background. It also suggested the sentencing purposes of denunciation, community protection and protection of the victim should be heightened.

Justice Palmer said any discounts on Clark’s sentence should be towards the “lower end” of the range available.

Accordingly, while the sentencing judge erred in not considering Clark’s personal circumstances, the end sentence he imposed was still not “manifestly excessive”.

Justice Palmer dismissed the appeal.

Reducing the jail sentence to under two years would have put it under the threshold at which home detention becomes a possibility, but Clark was not seeking that.

A jail term of under two years also would have meant that he would be released in less than a year, rather than whenever the Parole Board believed he no longer posed an undue risk to the community.

The charge of strangulation, or impeding breathing, was added to the statute book in December 2018 with a maximum penalty of seven years of imprisonment. Before then, choking or throttling attacks by men on women had been treated largely as male-against-female assaults, with a maximum sentence of two years.

The law was changed because of possible consequences to the victim, which can include brain injury, cardiac arrest, delayed stroke and miscarriages.

Research also suggested that women who had been strangled had seven times the risk of being killed by their partners in future.

Since the law change more than 6400 people have been charged under the strangulation law. Of these, 800 have been sent to jail and more than 500 sentenced to home detention.

Ric Stevens spent many years working for the former New Zealand Press Association news agency, including as a political reporter at Parliament, before holding senior positions at various daily newspapers. He joined NZME’s Open Justice team in 2022 and is based in Hawke’s Bay. His writing in the crime and justice sphere is informed by four years of front-line experience as a probation officer.

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