Anna Leask

Anna Leask is senior police reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Athlete's drink-drive file: plea that got her off

Judge told conviction would hurt career of woman who excelled despite being Maori and poor.

Police stopped the woman, whose name is permanently suppressed, after seeing her driving badly on November 8. Photo / Martin Sykes
Police stopped the woman, whose name is permanently suppressed, after seeing her driving badly on November 8. Photo / Martin Sykes

A lawyer for a drink-driving sportswoman urged a judge to let her off partly because she was a Maori who grew up poor but managed to excel in her field despite her hardship.

Court documents released to the Herald reveal that the woman admitted that she had been "unlawful and stupid" but asked for a discharge without conviction because she was having a "bad time" after breaking up with her boyfriend and was "sad".

The woman pleaded guilty and in the Gisborne District Court last week Judge Graham Hubble granted her a discharge without conviction after hearing a "persuasive" submission by defence lawyer Marcia Insley. The woman was not disqualified from driving, nor was she given a fine or ordered to pay any court costs.

Police stopped the woman, whose name is permanently suppressed, after seeing her driving badly on November 8.

When the officer went to speak with her, she was "showing signs of recently consuming alcohol". "Her speech was slurred, she smelt of liquor and she admitted to drinking," the police summary of facts said.

The Herald was granted access to the court file. It included Ms Insley's submission and an apology letter.

"She admits that when they were children they were financially strapped for cash. They were poor ... it's not very often that you get a Maori, let alone someone raised in the remotest areas, with exceptional talent excelling in [her sport]. It is abnormal, it is usually for the rich," Ms Insley told the court.

She detailed her client's sporting achievements and said she'd been offered a job playing overseas.

"A conviction would ruin her chances to travel and enhance her career. She has shown herself to be a high achiever ... and she has shown herself as a responsible and contributing member of the community prior to this incident."

The woman was drinking with her ex-fiance at a bar in Gisborne the night she was caught. They argued and she decided to leave.

"In her haste, and due to the fact that she was very upset with her ex-partner, she made the wrong decision to drive her vehicle," said Ms Insley. Judge Hubble said he was "quite satisfied that [the woman] was due for as much leniency as the court can possibly give her".

"How serious was the offence ... there was no accident. I suppose it's moderately serious," he said.

"If she got a conviction, is it going to inhibit her advancement in [her sport]? I am going to take it upon myself to discharge her ... and also make an order for name suppression. This lady is exceptional. I am satisfied that in [her] industry she would need to travel worldwide. So I am satisfied that any penalty imposed at all would far outweigh the possible deleterious effects to this young lady's career."

Many Herald readers were outraged by the decision, including two who have drink-driving convictions.

"It made me very cross ... I put myself in the position of being before a judge for the same charge five years ago and my judgment was a very different one," said one woman. "I never had any prior charges and I was prosecuted and fined $600. I deserved it and was shamed."

Frans van der Westhuizen said: "My reading was 405, just five over the legal limit for which I had to face the full consequences of the law - and rightly so as the law is the law."

Police are considering appealing Judge Hubble's decision and confirmed this week they are taking legal advice from the Crown Law Office.

- NZ Herald

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