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Offender gets chance to turn his life around

Thursday 3 August 2023 | Written by Rashneel Kumar | Published in Court, National


Offender gets  chance to turn  his life around

A 22-year-old facing burglary and willful damage charges was handed a 12 months supervised probation sentence with first six months to be served on community service.

Tupouatimo Hagai Noa appeared before Judge Justice Dame Judith Potter for sentencing in the Cook Islands High Court on Tuesday.

Noa, who was represented by lawyer Lavi Rokoika, faced burglary, willful damage and five contempt of court charges. The Crown was represented by senior counsel Jamie Crawford.

The court heard that on November, 14, 2021 at 4am, the defendant, accompanied by an associate, parked their bike beside the Matex Trading Complex in Arorangi and attempted to open the backdoor of the store with the Kō (coconut husking spear).

When the two failed to gain access, they returned to the front of the store and attempted to force open the ANZ ATM machine by “stabbing into the machine with the Kō”.

The defendant then broke the glass of the front door of the shop with the Kō, in the process hurt his right hand, and gained access to the premises. He stole from the fridge a carton of beer, the court heard. The defendant left the Kō behind the counter area of the shop and left a trail of blood from the injured hand as he returned to the motorbike where his accomplice was waiting.

Noa pleaded guilty to the principal charges earlier this year and entered guilty pleas to the contempt of court charges on Tuesday.

The maximum penalty for the burglary charge is 10 years in prison, and for willful damage, the imprisonment sentence is no more than three years. The penalty for contempt of court is six months in prison or a fine of $100 for each charge.

The defendant had paid $3200 in reparation to ANZ in August last year. The court heard that there was an outstanding reparation of $305 for damage to the shop front window.

Justice Potter raised concerns regarding the frequent contempt of court charges. “My concern is whether there’s any motivation to adhere to the conditions imposed,” she said.

The court heard that the contempt of court charges was related to the breaches in bail conditions – consuming alcohol.

Crawford said alcohol was a problem as noted by the defendant’s (ex) partner.

Justice Potter said a “constructive” probation report referred to strong family relationship of the defendant with his parents and siblings who provide ongoing support. He has a daughter who is approaching a year old.

The probation assessed the defendant being “low risk of reoffending” and recommended a sentence of 12 months’ probation supervision with the first six months served as community service and subject to specified conditions.

The Crown in its submission said that the offending was “substantially unsophisticated” and had caused extensive damage to the ATM machine.

The court heard that Noa has no previous conviction and “is genuinely remorseful for his actions and also for the embarrassment it has caused to his family”.

Considering the defendant is relatively young and this being his first offence, the Crown asked the court to impose the probation sentence in lieu of the prison sentence.

The defence submitted that the court should adopt probation and rehabilitation principles in sentencing “in order to deter the defendant from further offending and give him another chance in life”.

In her sentencing, Justice Potter told the defendant: “You’re at a crossroads in your life, your counsel urges that the court exercises your discretion to impose on you a sentence short of imprisonment. The Crown responsibly does not oppose this approach.”

“While noting that imprisonment is the usual response to burglary offending, you have the advantage of a supportive family, you have the responsibility of a beautiful young daughter and only if you can straighten out your life will you go forward. You’re employed and you have the support of your employer. There is lot going for you, you have a real opportunity to turn your life around and benefit those who love you.

“On the other hand, you can choose a downward trend and you have been doing that too successfully I have to say – that would result in frequent breaches and brushes with the law, grief, disappointment and worse for you and your family. “The choice is yours. I will give you a chance today, it is a last chance and you cannot expect leniency from the court should you offend again. It is entirely up to you.”

Noa was sentenced to 12 months’ probation with supervision and first six months to be served on community service.

The conditions imposed for the duration of the probation sentence were not to purchase or consume alcohol, not to enter any liquor licence premises such as bars or nightclub, not to leave the Cook Islands without approval of the High Court and take recommendations of Probation Service concerning ongoing counselling in relation to alcohol.

“It’s not a condition but I will add, it’s a common-sense warning – don’t go around to the homes and places of mates who are drinking alcohol because you will be surely tempted,” Justice Potter said.

Noa was also convicted of five contempt of court charges and discharged and ordered to pay $305 reparation for the damage to Matex shop.