Mongrel Mob president Joseph William Johnson believes he should be on home detention after racking up several driving-related convictions.
But the loaded pistol in his car - which he claims he took off someone else because he was “concerned about public safety” - means he must stay in jail.
Johnson had 17 previous convictions for driving while disqualified or suspended when he was found driving again when he was not supposed to be on six separate dates in 2023.
On the last occasion, police spoke to Johnson when they found him parked on Main St in Palmerston North around 1.55am on June 1 last year. At the time his licence was suspended due to demerit points.
Police officers smelled cannabis and conducted a warrantless search for drugs, finding a fully loaded and holstered .22 calibre pistol in the driver’s footwell of the car.
But Johnson, a local chapter president of the Mongrel Mob, does not have a firearms licence.
Judge Jonathan Krebs sentenced Johnson in the District Court on November 23, for his 18th to 23rd disqualified or suspended driving offence, and for having an unlawful firearm.
He sent Johnson to jail for 22 months and two weeks.
Because the jail term fell under the two-year threshold at which home detention is an option, Johnson turned to the High Court to appeal the sentence, arguing it should have been commuted to home detention.
In his recent decision on the matter, Justice Dale La Hood said the appeal came down to whether the sentence was manifestly excessive.
He said lawyers for Johnson and the police both accepted that it was likely home detention would have been imposed if the firearms charge had not been there.
“I consider it was open to the judge to conclude the local Mongrel Mob president’s possession of a readily accessible, fully loaded pistol in a car parked in a city’s main street during heightened gang tensions, combined with his criminal history, required the condign response of a prison sentence.”
Johnson’s criminal history dates back to when he was 17 in 2005 and he has offended almost every year since, sometimes multiple times.
He was sentenced to prison in 2007, 2009, 2010, 2013, and for two years and four months in 2017, for aggravated robbery.
Johnson then received a cumulative sentence of four more months for assault in 2018.
He told police that he had the pistol in his car because he heard someone else had it and retrieved it from that person because he was “concerned about public safety”.
Justice La Hood called this explanation “wholly implausible”.
Lawyers had referred Justice La Hood to several cases in which courts have considered whether prison sentences for unlawful possession of firearms should be commuted to home detention.
“In some cases, the personal circumstances of the offender have made home detention appropriate, and in other cases it has been held that deterrence and denunciation require a prison sentence,” Justice La Hood said.
“In this case, Mr Johnson’s conviction history, gang involvement, age and risk of reoffending do not favour the former approach.”
People jailed for two years or less are generally freed when they have served half of the sentence imposed.
In 2019, Johnson and another man, Chea Hemara, faced an eight-week trial charged with the murder of Nomad gang member Palmiro (Powsa) MacDonald, who went missing in 2016.
That trial ended in a hung jury and a retrial was ordered, but both Hemara and Johnson were later discharged, for different reasons.
The prosecution was then ended.
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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