Awatere-Huata's jailing racist?
Donna Awatere-Huata and husband Wi Huata found guilty of fraud etc. await sentence over $80 odd grand of education ministry funds. Two issues have arisen of concern:
1. Is Awatere-Huata being treated harsher than similar "white collar" offenders and if so is it anything to do with racism? (as claimed by some Maori Party candidates), and
2. Should convicted offenders (like her) be sent to jail immediately on a pre-emptive basis, without the need of a pre-sentence report, on the presumption that the sentencing judge will definitely give a jail term?
To answer point 2 first - this is how it works:
Now having intimate and unfortunate personal knowledge of how the system works I have a great appreciation for the American system (from what I understand through television programmes!) whereby the convicted offender remains on their current bail terms until the appeal time expires at which point they must present themselves at the jail to be taken into custody. This allows for family matters, children, finacial affairs etc. to be put in order. This is very important as our system of immediate jailing makes victims out of family, children, business partners etc. who have their stakeholder suddenly removed.
To say every offender should treat a jury verdict like they were at Donald Trump's "You're Fired" Apprentice TV show board meeting and be prepared for immediate elimination is too harsh. To go through the rigmarole of attending to everything necessary for imprisonment is a huge psychological ordeal. People who are innocent or believe they will be found not guilty or who have every reason to believe they will not receive a jail term often do not or cannot prepare for a sudden imposition of imprisonment. Who will pay the mortgage? Who will look after the kids? How will my business operate? How can you organise that when you maintain your innocence and are busy defending yourself? And these things all affect other people and the courts in this country ought to recognise that fact.
The chances of rehabilitation or reintegration after release are going to be harder if the offender has lost their house/flat/children/business/job only for want of not being given a few weeks to sort everything out. If the courts think that part of the punishment is the shock and family/financial trauma they are peverse indeed. If an offender must serve time in jail then would it be unjust for it to start at the expiry of their appeal time? Awatere-Huata didn't even have time to appeal her conviction let alone her sentence! They would still serve the same amount of time behind bars, so why the unseemly rush? - especially if the trial itself (and remember the trial is be definition and practice an ordeal) may have taken weeks and been in preparation for months or even years.
Point 1 - Is it too harsh and is it racism?
Hmmm, deal with racism later, harshosity. Let's find some roughly similar-ish recent examples and other dishonesty/money related offences so we can compare (Example 5 seems similar but involving less money):
Example 1: NZ Herald report 05/02/2004
Judge Simon Lockhart in the Auckland District Court sentenced Stephen Rolf Gubb, 48, to four years' jail on December 22. Gubb's wife, Helen, 35, was sentenced to nine months' jail on December 5, deferred for two months with the right to apply for home detention.
They have two children, aged 5 and 7 at the time of sentencing.
Stephen Gubb pleaded guilty to two charges of false accounting, five of using a document with intent to defraud and three of forgery. Helen Gubb pleaded guilty to two charges of false accounting and two of using a document with intent to defraud.
counsel's submissions before sentencing said they had sold their home and repaid Westwater residents $232,790.28, leaving $82,996.45 owing. Beauford Properties had been repaid $100,000.
"The actual loss figure in relation to Mr Gubb's offending is $854,996.45, not including interest, recovery or legal costs," the court heard. "The actual loss figure in relation to Mrs Gubb's offending is $144,996.42."
So the wife gets home detention only because of the kids - fair enough. No previous.
Mr Gubb: 4yrs/$854,996.45 = $213,749 pa = $585 per day. (based on actual net loss not gross amount) No previous conv. Ethnicity unknown.
Example 2: NZ Herald report 01/06/2004
Judge Harvey sentenced Greig to 20 months in prison for accessing a computer system and 18 months for the other charges of credit-card fraud. Home detention was refused and the sentences are to be served concurrently... Greig, 21,... used several credit card numbers to buy $6900 worth of equipment. His scam successful, he returned to spend $1400 more on computer gear.... Weighing against Greig was the fact he faced two charges of burglary in 2002, was sentenced to community service, but broke his sentence. In January he was also sentenced to 400 hours of community service and ordered to make reparations of $7463.
Mr Greig: 20mnths/$6,900.00 = $4,141 pa = $11.34 per day. Previous conv. Ethnicity unknown. Harsh-o-rama!!!
Example 3: NZ Herald report 30/10/2002
A 65-year-old Auckland doctor was sentenced to a total of three years' imprisonment yesterday on charges of fraud and wilfully attempting to obstruct the course of justice... He had claimed money from Health Benefits, a business unit of the Ministry of Health, for consultations with patients that never took place... Philipiah did not have an unblemished record. There were false tax returns in the 1980s and an audit by Health Benefits in the 1990s involved a $70,000 settlement for inappropriate claims... Philipiah's $650,000 settlement with Health Benefits. "This is public money on a large scale," Judge Moore said.
Mr Philipiah: 3yrs/settled. (Gross figure @$650,000 = $216,666 pa = $593 per day). Prev. Ethn. unkn.
Example 4: NZ Herald report 07/07/2003
A serial fraudster whose sentence was reduced with a reparation payment says she was punished more by the payment than a prison term. The case of the 45-year-old woman... She was convicted on fraud charges and sentenced to 27 months in prison in the Gisborne District Court last year. Appalled at the length of the sentence handed down, she appealed after serving eight months. A High Court judge reduced her sentence to 18 months and added an order to pay $1600 reparation... The charges related to amounts adding up to about $7000 against businesses. She had been caught on fraud-related offences before, had served prison terms twice and paid reparation numerous times.
Ms X: 18mnths/$7000 = $4,666 pa = $12.78 per day. Prev. Ethn. unkn. Why did she wait to appeal?!
Example 5: NZ Herald report 20/03/1999
The mother of three was the enthusiastic coordinator of Kaikohe Plunket's car seat rental scheme in an area where just 60 per cent of children are buckled up. But the 27-year-old stole $19,500 from Plunket and did long-term damage to the campaign she once so keenly helped promote. Judge Clapham, sentencing Alexander in the Kaikohe District Court yesterday for fraud, described her offending as a calculated breach of trust... As a first offender, Alexander was sentenced to six months periodic detention, ordered to repay $10,000 to Plunket.
Ms Alexander: 6mnths PD/$19,500 No Prev. Ethn. unkn.
Etc. etc. I don't have the ethnicity data so I can't make a call on the racism aspect. But the real "white collar" criminals seem to get an easy ride compared to the "blue collar" frauds of a few thousand. Maybe it's a social class thing?
If Donna is a high class dame she'll get her $80,000 @ $550 a day = 5 months.
If Donna is a low class skank she'll get her $80,000 @ $15 a day = 14 1/2 years.
Don't wear ugg boots, Donna for fuck's sake! She'll be hoping the sentencing ratio declines exponentially. Then again, the 65 year old Doctor was off to prison even though he had made full restitution... so, after all this text, I'm stating very clearly and precisely that I don't know. And likewise the Maori Party candidates who want to support Donna (and they have every right too and should in her time of need) should also be circumspect when accusing people or institutions of racism if it is based on one case. I expect to see a proper study/evidence that demonstrates it rather than a knee-jerk call although I don't expect the media to either report it if made or independently investigate it. The problem with throwing the term "racist" around is that it is too often boys crying wolf and dilutes the many real instances of racism. I've been accused of that too, but it is utterly incorrect (and anyone who says different is an apartheid-worshipping, indigenous baby-eating, genocidal, skin head, Nazi racist.)
As for putting people in jail only after their appeal time has expired/grace period, I may have to add that to any constitutional convention discussion - which will have a new agenda on Wednesday so I'll get cracking on that now.