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11 November 2022

Repeat offender gets probation sentence for stealing lemons

Thursday 28 March 2024 | Written by Losirene Lacanivalu | Published in Court, National

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Repeat offender gets probation  sentence for stealing lemons

A repeat offender received a 12-month probation sentence with community service for stealing lemons and failing to report to the police station.

Okirua Manuela, a frequent offender known to the court, was sentenced to 12 months’ probation supervision with four months of community service after being convicted for theft.

Manuela, representing himself in court, appeared before Justices of the Peace Tangi Taoro, Nga Mataio and Paul Turepu who warned him they hoped not to see him again.

Manuela admitted to stealing around $100 worth of lemons from a property in Matavera.

On September 4, 2023, he drove his car to the property, parked on the side of the road, walked to the lemon plantation and began picking lemons.

The property owner approached him and told him to stop before asking him why he was picking the lemons. Manuela said he was going to sell them to a restaurant and bar in Tupapa.

Police arrested Manuela then and he admitted to the offence at the High Court on November 29 that same year.

On January 19 and February 23 this year, Manuela failed to report to the police station between 5pm-6pm (every Friday) without explanation and was charged with two counts of contempt.

The probation report indicated Manuela was a familiar figure to the court and lived in a container home, working in plumbing to repay debts. He struggled with drugs and alcohol in the past but had been sober and was grateful to his parents for their support.

He apologised to the court.

Police prosecutor Senior Sergeant Fairoa Tararo argued that Manuela had no excuse for his actions, had a long history of dishonesty, and recommended 12 months’ probation supervision with a requirement to remain in the Cook Islands.

In sentencing him, Justice of Peace Nga Mataio acknowledged Manuela’s early guilty plea.

However, the JP noted aggravating factors: stealing over $100 worth of lemons from private property, being caught in the act, and his history of offending.

JP Mataio considered the submissions from both Police and Probation Services.

“The court would like to highlight the seriousness of the theft charge which carries a maximum imprisonment of five years … the court would like to highlight your long history of offending and convictions, but it is good to read that you are trying to change your life around, including minimising your alcohol consumption,” JP Mataio said.

He noted that Manuela mentioned wanting to find employment to improve his financial situation.

“But if you keep appearing before the court, it is not going to help with your primary objective. So the court hopes that this will be the last time that you will appear in court.”

JP Mataio also advised Manuela to distance himself from a friend who is also known to the court system, so he can focus on his goals.

Manuela was sentenced for theft and contempt of court. He was ordered to attend counselling workshops as directed by the Probation Service and not to leave the Cook Islands without the approval of the court. 

For the contempt charges, he was fined a total of $134 and $150 in court costs for all charges.