Salient. Victoria University Students Newspaper. Vol. 38, No. 4, 1975
From the Courts
From the Courts
In front of Mr Wicks, SM a 68 year old woman was charged with shoplifting a packet of chippolatas which were found at the bottom of a basket under other things she had paid for. She pleaded guilty to the charge, but said she had simply forgotten about the chippolatas, which would be easy enough with a lot of groceries in a big supermarket for someone of her age. She had never offended before and seemed very distressed by the whole procedure, breaking into tears and needing the support and comfort of a police woman nearby.
It seems ridiculous that a case like this was ever brought before the court. The police don't like prosecuting in shop-lifting oases at the best of times, believing that supermarkets by their design ask for it and should use their discretion to decide whether or not to prosecute. But the police can't refuse to prosecute when an actual complaint is laid. Why should some big rip-off supermarket cause such distress to an individual, who, like many people, may have only pleaded guilty to shorten the ordeal, which must have been traumatic enough for a woman of this age and state of health. A little common sense, but the manager could have saved someone a lot of anguish and perhaps even damage to her health which, to my way of thinking, is more 'criminal' than a misplaced bag of chippolatas.
Perhaps in confirmation of this view Mr Wicks ordered that her name be suppressed because of her health and eventually convicted and discharged her under section 42.
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The duty solicitor scheme, introduced last year as one of Dr Findlay's babies was a good idea in theory. It was the result of mite a bit of prompting from various sources, the most influential probably being the Sutherland report in Nelson on disparity of the sentencing of Maori and Island offenders, which showed a definite trend towards lighter sentencing occurred when defendants were represented by counsel. As yet there has been no definite appraisal of the scheme, although a survey is being made in Dunedin.
With just a superficial glance at the courts it appears as though having counsel is at least enabling defendants a chance for a remand and a probation report to be made. Some people, however, refuse the use of it, perhaps being ignorant of the way it works or sceptical that it will do them any good anyway. There are some defendants who appear that have not heard of the scheme and it is interesting to note that the majority of these have been in police custody up until their appearance in court. It was good to see that Mr Wicks, SM and Mr Sullivan SM at least made some attempt to help these people by having the cases stood down till counsel were obtained but on the other hand Mr Hobbs, SM was conspicuous by his failure to do so. The idea of the duty solicitor scheme is good but its effectiveness is coloured by individual discrepancies that occur among police and magistrates and also the effort which counsel takes over a case.
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A young Polynesian pleaded guilty and was convicted and fined $25 for being drunk in a public place. He'd been drinking at a party and had lost his way and went to a house with its lights on to find out where he was and ring for a taxi. Exercising what can only be described as an unfounded racial fear, the occupants made no attempt to answer the door and rang the police instead, who arrested the guy who by this time had gone to sleep in the doorway.
Sentencing him, Mr Wicks, SM commented that he must have regard to the fears of ordinary people. He said nothing of how these fears are fostered and perpetrated by the media or anything of the welfare of an ordinary person who had lost his way.
Interestingly too, by the way, that someone's private doorstep can be construed as a public place, something that was not commented on by the magistrate or the duty solicitor in defence.
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Within about 10 minutes of each other two cases were heard before Mr Sullivan, SM, each involving an excess blood/alcohol level while driving. There was only one definite material distinction between case 1 and case 2 in that in case 2 the driver ran into the back of another car causing some damage to the vehicle only. Both persons were disqualified for driving for 18 months but in case 1 the fine levied was $100 while in case 2 it was $400. Did the fact that damage occurred in the second case account wholly for the discrepancy in the amounts fined or was the magistrate swayed by the fact that in case 1 the defendant was a 'respectfully' dressed middle-aged woman with purple hair who lived in Oriental Parade while in case 2 the defendant was a 30 year old Maori man from Turangi. For both it was a first offence and in the second case the man had paid for the damage done out of his own pocket already. He had several children and while she would have high expenses living in Oriental Parade, she appeared as though she would suffer much less than he and his family would. Furthermore while he caused actual damage it was only her good fortune that she did not, having driven on both sides of the road and up on the kerb on three different occasions according to police evidence so the offence committed was essentially the same.
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On Monday March 17, before Mr Hobbs, three men were charged with public drunkenness, having all been arrested the previous Friday 14 and remaining in police custody since. All three had alcohol problems and several convictions for the same offence previously. All three were convicted and discharged. Admittedly they weren't fined and weren't therefore forced to pay out money they didn't have which is the solution of some magistrates but is still no real solution to the problem. It could be argued that the cells were the best place for them on a weekend; at least they were warm and fed. But if the police are going to act in any sort of social welfare role there should be some other provision in the law so that 'aid' can be given without a conviction following as is necessarily the case now. These men need more than other conviction and an admonition from the magistrate to stop drinking.
If you want to give us a hand at the courts, drop your name into the Salient office, middle floor, Union building.