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11 November 2022

Daytime vs. nighttime: Conflicting accounts cloud erratic driving case

Wednesday 14 February 2024 | Written by Losirene Lacanivalu | Published in Court, National

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Daytime vs. nighttime: Conflicting accounts cloud erratic driving case

Driver charged with failing to stop and refusing breathalyser awaits verdict after conflicting testimonies about the incident’s time and details.

The court decision on a man who denied charges of driving-related matters has been reserved and will be delivered on February 26 at 9.30am.

Takai Banaba appeared before Justice of the Peace John Whitta, charged with failing to stop on demand and refusing to undergo a breathalyser test. His defence hearing took place at the Criminal High Court in Avarua yesterday.

According to police prosecution, the incident occurred on May 12 last year, following a call about a white truck driving erratically in Avatiu.

Police prosecutor Senior Sergeant Fairoa Tararo presented three state witnesses, all police officers involved in the case.

One of the officers, Probation Constable Edwin Kotoiwasawasa, was rostered that night from 11pm to 7am the next day. He stated that they were on the road when they received a call from the communications staff to attend to a complaint of a driver swerving, with the last sighting at the Avatiu roundabout. Kotoiwasawasa said they followed the truck to Ruatonga, observing it swerving out of its lane. They attempted to stop the vehicle using the horn/siren and police emergency lights, but the defendant continued driving until turning into his driveway.

Kotoiwasawasa further stated they followed the defendant home, where he swore at them, asking what they were doing on his property.

He said they tried to administer a breathalyser test (EBA), but the defendant continued swearing. Their supervisor, a sergeant, then instructed them to arrest him.

Referring to the law questioned by Senior Sergeant Tararo, Kotoiwasawasa explained that the Criminal Procedures Act allows officers to enter the premises of anyone suspected of breaking the law without a warrant, while the Transport Amendment Act addresses refusing an EBA test.

Defence lawyer Mona Ioane questioned Kotoiwasawasa about the exact location where they received the call from communications. The constable replied that he was in the passenger (front) seat of the police vehicle at 11.30pm, just leaving the station, when they received the call near the BTIB building towards the Punanga Nui Market. He added that they saw the vehicle turn at the Avatiu roundabout.

Another officer testified that the defendant smelled of alcohol during their interaction and swore at them when informed of the reason for their presence. Ioane asked if they asked the defendant to stop and how many times they sounded the siren or honked the horn at the vehicle. The officer replied that she recalled the sergeant honking, but the defendant did not stop and continued driving.

Defence witness Sith Taripo, questioned by Ioane, stated he was standing outside his house at the corner of the Avatiu intersection when he saw the defendant drive past in his work truck and turn into his driveway, followed by the police vehicle.

Taripo heard yelling and went over to see the defendant already handcuffed. He said the defendant was swearing, presumably upset.

When asked by police prosecutor Senior Sergeant Tararo if he heard sirens, the witness said no. Taripo stated he was outside his home around 5pm or slightly later.

Sergeant Tararo questioned if the witness was aware of the police claim that the incident occurred at 11pm. The witness responded negatively.

In his closing submissions, Senior Sergeant Tararo argued that the defence witness placed the events during the day and questioned the credibility of his evidence.

He maintained that police prosecution provided sufficient evidence and reasonable cause to suspect the defendant was drunk.

Defence lawyer Ioane, in his closing, stated that police failed to give the defendant enough warning to stop, arguing that they should have warned him five times. He claimed the warning was not enough. Ioane added that the defence does not contest the failure to administer a breathalyser test (EBA), as they accept the evidence and are satisfied with it.