A man who stole a vehicle and took the Police on a wild chase through a cattle farm has been fined $3,000 by the Supreme Court.
The decision against Chong Nee, who apparently suffers from bipolar disorder, was delivered by Chief Justice, His Honour Patu Tiava’asu’e Falefatu Sapolu.
Oliver Chong Nee was convicted of theft, two counts of intentional damage and endangering transport. He was found guilty after a trial.
The incident occurred on Sunday 22 October 2017 when the complainant went in his brand new pick up vehicle to buy a cake and ice cream for his wife’s birthday.
The complainant left his car on at the supermarket. The doors were unlocked. Chong Nee was in front of the supermarket and he knew this. He got inside and drove off in the car.
“When the complainant came out of the supermarket, his vehicle was gone. He then called his older brother and the police on his mobile phone for help,” the Court heard.
“When the Police arrived, they went with the complainant to Aleisa to look for the complainant’s vehicle but the complainant’s vehicle was nowhere to be seen.”
Somehow, the Owner of the vehicle was able to track down his car and he informed the Police about it.
“When the police vehicle arrived, the accused turned the complainant’s vehicle around from where it was parked and drove towards the road. He tried to head seaward to the main road but his vehicle was blocked by the Police vehicle.
“The accused then drove further inland on a rough and bumpy vehicle track while pursued by the police and the complainant’s brother in their vehicles.
“The vehicle track ended at a fenced cattle farm and the accused drove into the cattle farm through the gate, still being pursued by the Police vehicle inside the cattle farm.”
Chong Nee turned around inside the cattle farm and attempted to head back to the gate of the farm.
“Unfortunately for the accused, the gate was blocked by the complainant’s brother’s vehicle that had got stuck there in the soft and slippery mud. So the accused rammed the complainant’s vehicle into the vehicle of the complainant’s brother and that was where the complainant’s vehicle stopped.
“The police came out of their vehicle and arrested the accused.”
Chong nee, 39, was born in Wellington, New Zealand where he grew up. When the incident happened, he had just arrived in Samoa for a holiday.
“The accused told the probation service that he has a mental illness, namely, a bipolar disorder. He also told the probation service that it was due to his bipolar disorder that he committed the present offences,” Chief Justice Patu noted.
“The accused further told the probation service that his brothers from Australia have already paid $12,000 to the complainant to fix his vehicle. Defence counsel in her submissions says that the accused, through his family, has given funds to the complainant to repair his vehicle.
“As for the damage to the vehicle of the complainant’s brother, the defence claims that that is covered by insurance. The prosecution sentencing memorandum shows that the value of the damage to the complainant’s vehicle is $12,330 and the value of the damage to the vehicle of the complainant’s brother is $12,214.30.”
Chong Nee did not give evidence. But his defense team called Dr. George Tuitama, the General Psychiatrist at the Mental Health Unit of the National Hospital to give evidence.
“Dr Tuitama, apart from his oral testimony, produced a report of the psychiatric examinations that he had conducted on the accused. According to the report by Dr. Tuitama, the accused made two visits to the mental health unit of the National Hospital.”
Dr. Tuitama said that at the time of the offending, the accused who had not been taking his medication, was significantly impaired by his mental illness.
“His illness is quite significant and when unwell he is greatly impaired. Dr. Tuitama then stated the accused would also need a follow-up visit for his medications review, blood tests and mental clearance before flying back to New Zealand with the assistance of a mental health escort.”
The Chief Justice noted that it’s clear from the psychiatric report by Dr. Tuitama that the accused suffers from a bipolar disorder.
“Given the evidence of Dr Tuitama, I am satisfied on the balance of probabilities that there was a nexus or causative link between the accused’s bipolar disorder and his offending. This makes the accused’s bipolar disorder a mitigating factor,” His Honour Patu said.
“The accused’s family is in Australia and New Zealand where he was born and grew up. Since he came to Samoa in October 2017 for a holiday, he has been staying with relatives who have not been able to give him the same degree of care given to him by his own family in New Zealand.
“He ran out of his medication because on his first visit to Dr. Tuitama, he wanted a refill of his medications. Furthermore, he could not remember what his medications were or the right dosages.
“The accused, as he told Dr. Tuitama, had also not taken his medications for many weeks before the incident in question occurred. He now wants to return home soon.
“I am also conscious that there may be a civil claim by the complainant’s brother against the accused for the damage caused to his vehicle. This is disputed by the defence as the accused’s brothers from Australia claim that the vehicle of the complainant’s older brother is covered by insurance.
“I am also conscious that the accused’s consultant Psychiatrist is in New Zealand and he may be more familiar with the accused’s condition.
“We also do not have an institution for mental patients as they have in New Zealand or Australia. As a result, such unfortunate people when they commit criminal offences are often kept in prison for security reasons.
“Having weighed all the circumstances of this case, I have decided to impose a non-custodial sentence.”