Recidivism lands father of three in prison

Wednesday July 05, 2017 Written by Published in Crime

An eight-time traffic offender ran out of second chances in the Avarua High Court last week. Ngatokorua Tonorio was the first of more than 44 cases before Justice of the Peace, Georgina Williams in Thursday’s court session – appearing for sentencing after earlier pleading guilty to a charge of refusal to undergo a breathalyser test. 

 

The husband and father of three was appearing on what was his eighth traffic and alcohol-related charge.  Represented by defence lawyer Norman George he was facing up to one year in prison, or a fine of $1000 – or both.  Tonorio’s wife was in the court room, situated in the front row of the public arena – she could be seen anxiously awaiting the verdict and was said to have written a heartfelt letter to the courts, stating how a custodial sentence would severely impact both Tonorio and his young family.

George pleaded with the court, asserting that his client has an alcohol addiction, highlighting that the relevant counselling services were not available to those in prison.  Following defence counsels long winded appeal, Williams requested a brief interval in which she would reconsider the mitigating factors and make her decision.  Before retiring Williams addressed Tonorio: “I have on more than one occasion read these letters from your wife, however you should be held accountable for your actions.

“For me, my job is to administer the law, and it’s not fair on everyone else that I have had to act harshly to act justly.  “This is your eighth visit, and in my reasoning, you have very little regard for your actions - so allow me 10-15 minutes to come to my decision.”

The defendant’s wife sat quietly in the public seats, staring blankly out the court windows. Upon considering both prosecutions and defence counsel’s submissions, Williams returned with her decision. With reference to the letter pleading for leniency submitted by the defendant’s wife, Williams said: “I can no long ignore the fact that I have been subjected to such requests in the past and have been lenient.

I can no longer ignore the defendant’s blatant disregard for the law and the choices he is making.  “Therefore, the defendant is convicted and sentenced to one-month imprisonment, to be followed by 12 months’ probation, during which time he is to receive counselling as directed by the probationary services, he is also disqualified from driving or obtaining a motor vehicle driver’s licence upon release, for a period of 12 months,” she said. 

“Now Ngatokorua, I hope that you will learn a lesson from this, as JPs this is not something that we like doing – it’s your choice from here on out, do the counselling, and hopefully it doesn’t impact your young family,” she added.

With a nod from the JP, Tonorio was not taken into custody immediately and returned to his seat beside his wife to await custodial instructions from Corrections. Another guilty sentencing followed, with contract worker Toawea Highland appearing before the court on a similar charge of refusing to undergo a breathalyser test.

The court heard that the defendant was a repeat offender, but that upon examination his lawyer said it should be noted that the start of Highland’s criminal record coincided with the death of his father. 

Wilkie Rasmussen told the court that 31-year-old Highland came to Rarotonga when he was only 20 years old, and that he lacked a support system, with which could keep him on track.  Rasmussen said his defendant had previously served time in prison, however, like many repeat offenders, was not given access to the relevant rehabilitation services upon re-joining the community. 

Prosecutions recommended Highland serve three to six months in the Arorangi prison, however Rasmussen said custodial sentencing would only hinder his progress in getting his life back on track and could lead his client to become more self-destructive.  “He hasn’t offended for some time now,” Rasmussen added. After hearing submissions from both prosecution and defence counsel, Williams made her decision. 

“I note that the defendant has a track record of repeat offending with regards to traffic offences – and it is my belief that in refusing to undergo a breathalyser test the most likely reason was that he knew he would be over the limit.

“It was described in the summary of facts that he was driving in an erratic manner, where he kept crossing into the other lane – a situation that could very likely have eventuated in – a head-on collision.” Whilst he has been described by his landlord as being responsible and considerate, his alcohol traffic related offences continue,” she said.  Williams then sentenced Highland to one-month imprisonment, to be followed by 12 months’ probation.

He was disqualified from holding a motor vehicle driver’s licence for 12 months. She also said he should receive counselling as recommended by probationary services.

In another case before the court, Kaveao Kaveao, who was already in police custody and had appeared on one theft charge two weeks ago, faced sentencing. Defended by Mark Short, the defendant entered a guilty plea, and the court set a date for sentencing before three Justices of the Peace. The case was adjourned until August 2 and he was remanded back in custody.   Following this, over a dozen cases were adjourned to a later date. Two hearings were scheduled for early August and one case was set to appear before a judge.

In addition, due to time restraints and the number of defendants set to appear, 19 minor traffic offences were adjourned to the next court session.  Of the 19, 15 cases were facing charges with respect to youngsters 16 years or under not wearing safety helmets, cases that have been in court since the beginning of April.    

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