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May 12, 2008 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

Court Report: Defended Hearings

Defended hearings are where a judge decides upon cases in which the defendant has pleaded not guilty, but the charges do not warrant a jury trial. Last Wednesday I sat in Court Room 6 from 10am until 11am, and watched eleven hearings. Most of the defendants simply stood at the back between the two rows of seats where other defendants and their supporters waited, facing the judge, although a couple were required to sit in the dock while their charges were read out.

Six of the cases were resolved then and there because the defendants suddenly decided to plead guilty, despite maintaining their innocence throughout their status hearings. Two large Polynesian men had their charges withdrawn after one of them apologized to his victim outside the courtroom; because the other turned up late, the judge had to wait for him to arrive and apologise before formally calling off the hearing. Another Polynesian male, with a fantastic dread-mullet and multicoloured facial tattoos, was fined $150 (plus $130 court costs) after belatedly pleading guilty to intentionally damaging a motor vehicle.

Yet another Polynesian male, much more sharply dressed than the first three, pleaded guilty to punching an employee of Newtown New World. The defendant had gone to the supermarket to pick up some snacks before watching the cricket; while waiting around he tried to switch the store’s television onto the cricket, and the employee alleged that the defendant had punched him when asked to leave. Although the defendant maintained that it had been an open-palmed slap, he wanted to go back to the Waikato to live with his 12-year-old son and attend polytechnic. The judge said that this action was a return to the sort of nuisance offending the defendant had left behind two years ago, and fined him $200 plus $130 court costs.

By far the most disturbing case I witnessed was that of a 43- year-old white male, self-employed as an IT consultant (with a terrible hair cut), charged with six counts of indecent assault (amended from more serious charges after he pleaded guilty). As he sat in the dock, the prosecution (a female police officer in uniform) read out the list of charges: in July last year, the defendant had been sitting in the spa at Freyberg pool when the Capital Swim Club finished training and hopped in. He then proceeded to run his foot up the leg of one female teenaged swimmer. In October he did a similar thing to another female member of the swim team (this time a 14-year-old), running his fingers over her arm. On 20 November he groped the belly of yet another 14-year-old female; on 27 November he grabbed the same girl’s thigh as she tried to swim. Two days later, the swim team avoided the spa after spotting the offender, but he ran after them and tried to touch a16-year-old female’s body, upon which the police were called. The prosecution stated that current bail conditions were sufficient, and the judge remanded him until 13 June, when electronic monitoring will be considered.

The final defendant who pleaded guilty was a young bald Indian male who turned up in shorts and jandals. At 4am on a Sunday morning in January, he had caught a taxi from Courtenay Place to Newlands after a night out on the town. However, as the taxi approached its destination he told the driver that he would not pay the $57.70 fare, began to swear, threatened the driver and claimed he had been in jail (which he hadn’t), before falling fast asleep in the seat. When the police arrived to wake him up and drag him out of the car, they discovered the fare in his front pocket. He told the judge that he cannot remember what he was arguing about at the time, and admitted that he should have stopped drinking and headed home earlier. He was fined $300 plus $130 court costs as well as the $57.70 fare.

Of the remaining five cases, two were immediately adjourned – one was never supposed to have been heard on that day, and the other was delayed because the defendant (a short old white male with a goatee and leather jacket) suffered from a medical condition, and his lawyer wanted evidence of this to be called. The lawyer also said he believed there were some new matters that the police had not disclosed; once he said this, the police immediately reached over and handed him the file.

Another old bearded white man, charged with driving while disqualified, possession of an offensive weapon and class B drugs, also sought an adjournment. His lawyer said that he had just realised that he was a witness in the case, as his client had called him while being arrested; the lawyer stated that the defendant had now resurrected his legal aid. While the judge agreed to adjourn the case, he said that the defendant was obviously “playing ducks and drakes with the legal system” and informed him that this would be the final adjournment.

The other two cases were delayed until that afternoon because the defendants still maintained their innocence, which meant their cases would require witnesses to be called. One of these cases involved a well-dressed Greek male. His trial would involve three witnesses besides the police officer in charge of the case, and would take an hour and a half. The other case, of a Polynesian male, would take up to four hours. The judge set these cases aside so that he could get through everything else within an hour, before taking a break and returning to them. Sadly, I had to run off to the Salient office to make sure my minions didn’t burn the place down, so I cannot tell you how these cases were resolved.


About the Author ()

Tristan Egarr edited in 2008. He threw a chair once.

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