Tougher sentence for offender who ‘started from the best position’

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Three abductors have appeared for sentencing in Christchurch District Court.  They did not all receive the same sentence.

Stacy Squires / Stuff

Three abductors have appeared for sentencing in Christchurch District Court. They did not all receive the same sentence.

Should someone from a loving and supportive family background be treated more harshly when they throw everything away and end up in the dock?

That’s the question Judge Raoul Neave had to ask himself during a sentencing session at Christchurch District Court.

He was struck by the way the criminal justice system treats people from different backgrounds: a gang member from a violent and disadvantaged background, and others who have committed a serious but unexpected offense after descended into drug addiction.

He jailed the gang’s offender for four years for armed robbery, but imposed terms of house arrest on three young offenders for kidnapping for a drug debt.

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The longest sentence of the three – one year house arrest – went to the man from the most favorable background. “It is quite normal that the person who left from the best position ends up with the heaviest sentence,” Judge Neave explained.

He pointed out the conundrum at the start of the convictions: “Here is someone who took all the advantages and threw them away. One wonders if this should not be an aggravating factor.

Judge Neave began by sentencing 29-year-old Tama Tapine of an armed robbery in which he and another offender entered an Aranui home, Tapine carrying a sawed-off shotgun wrapped in a blue bandana.

They forced their way into a man’s room where they demanded money and “equipment” (methamphetamine). The man had neither, so they took his mobile phone and laptop, but gave them back to him before driving off in his car.

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Defense attorney Elizabeth Bulger said the culture report on Tapine showed a “fractured and chaotic upbringing”. There were still disturbing gang ties and deep-seated opinions attributed to him, but she said her demeanor had become softer and less aggressive since dealing with him.

Judge Neave said Tapine ended up in state care because of his disadvantaged childhood with parents who got into trouble with the law, were involved in drugs and unable to provide him with proper counseling. He grew up with gangs, drugs and violence, but now there were positive signs – he wanted to be a good father to the children he came into contact with and he wanted to distance himself from the criminal behavior that had led to his imprisonment.

From a starting point of 81 months in prison, Judge Neave took into account factors including the cultural report on Tapine and reduced his sentence to 48 months. He ordered no reparations as there was no prospect of payment.

Marshel Amies, Ashkay Luthra and Jonty Scott, all aged 20 and under, had admitted charges of kidnapping, threatening death or grievous bodily harm, armed robbery and unlawful seizure of a car. Scott also admitted charges of possession of cannabis for the purpose of supply, misrepresentation and several charges of driving while prohibited. Judge Neave said Scott made a false claim that he was being robbed to cover up a breach of his curfew.

ROBERT KITCHIN/STUFF

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The judge said the charges stemmed from a person being taken at knifepoint for a drug debt after the three got involved in smuggling cannabis on Facebook Messenger.

Judge Neave said two of them came from strong family backgrounds, with the benefits that most offenders “significantly lacked”.

“I feel like they were stuck in some kind of stupid, out of touch video game,” he said. He wondered if spending hours on screens was the way to prepare people for real-world encounters.

He imposed nine months of house arrest on Amies, 10 months on Scott and 12 months on Luthra. He ordered each of them to pay a share of the victim’s losses of $1,066 and reparations for emotional harm of $500 each. Scott had to give up $175 that had been seized in cash from his drug dealing.

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