A retired Police Sergeant, Lilo Lauina, has been slapped with a $1,300 fine in connection with a traffic accident that led to the death of a 23-year-old girl last December.
Sentencing was handed down by District Court Judge Alalatoa Viane Papali’i who’s ruling was issued on Friday. Lauina was represented by Toleafoa Vaega Lei Sam and prosecuting was Luaipou Ann Matalasi.
A member of the Samoa Shipping Services Board, Lauina was charged with negligently driving causing the death. A count that carries a jail term of up to five years in jail or a fine up to $2,000.
During sentencing, Alalatoa pointed out from the Police Summary of Facts the defendant was driving from Apia heading to Faleolo airport with his grandchildren.
At Fasitoo-uta, Lauina fell asleep at the wheel causing the van to veer off the road hitting the deceased. Shortly after the incident Lauina drove straight to the Faleolo Police post and reported the incident and a vehicle passing by the scene took the deceased to the hospital but she was later pronounced dead on the same date.
The deceased suffered an open fracture on the head, she was bleeding from ears and nose; deformed right leg; multiple abrasion on the face and bruises on her body and the cause of death is severe head injury.
Judge Alalatoa pointed out the defendant told the probation service that about 50 metres from the hump in front of Toleafoa Faafisi’s shop at Fasitoo Uta, you heard the front left hand side of the van suddenly hit something.
“You alleged that the deceased had run out of the hedges on the roadside, straight on to the main road and the van hit her.”
Yet during sentencing submissions Lauina repeated the same story you told the probation service, that you were shocked when the deceased suddenly came out of nowhere straight on to the side of the road where you were driving and you could not avoid hitting her.
“I was naturally concerned about this version of events and could not close my mind to it.”
Alalatoa further pointed out that prosecution confirmed the defendant’s statement to the police was that he fell asleep at the wheel. “I will accept for the purposes of sentencing what your counsel had told the Court regarding the instructions he received from you that you did in fact fall asleep at the wheel causing you to hit the deceased. Obviously, this together with the trial documents led to the change of plea.”
Judge Alalatoa took into consideration that an ifoga and substantial presentation of faaaloaloga for the deceased’s lauava was taken to alleviate the wrong to the deceased’s family in accordance with Samoan customs and traditions. The value of total presentations gifted to the Deceased’s family for the ifoga and lauava is estimated at $10,000.
Defense made an application for the court to exercise its discretion for a discharge without conviction. Alalatoa in her ruling notes that prosecution had recommended a starting imprisonment term of 12 months.
However, when Ms Matalasi when asked of their position in relation to the application for a discharge, she said prosecution did not oppose the application.
“Both counsel were then reminded that the consent of the Prosecution to the application does not bind the Court. “While it is a factor the court can take into account, its not an overriding consideration as that would abdicate the sentencing function of the court to the parties involved.”
She says defence Counsel argues that the direct and indirect consequence of a conviction on defendant would be the loss of his position as board director for Samoa Shipping Corporation and therefore the end of his “lucrative career”.
“I disagree with your counsel’ assertion that you have had a lucrative career as a board member as you have only been a board director for less than 15 months now.” The Judge notes that its not her intention to downplay the importance of his role as board member.
“But the fact of the matter, is you have committed a serious offence. Whilst I accept there is a real or appreciable risk that such consequence will occur of your being removed from the SSC board given the mandatory provision such risk comes with the territory.”
She also quoted case of Roberts v Police the NZ High Court there said that: “…where a statutory body screens applicants for admission to an occupation, the risk to a person’s career is unlikely to be sufficient in itself to justify a discharge, since there is a public interest in the statutory body knowing about the discretion and exercising its discretion accordingly”.
“I venture to say this equally applies to your situation Lauina. “A risk to your position as a director does not of itself justify a discharge.”
Alalatoa says to allow a discharge without conviction for an offence that is not trifling in nature but serious will be to send the wrong message out to the public; that it is okay for you and other drivers to fall asleep whilst driving causing an accident and death to someone and walk away with a discharge.
“I will not do that. It is not in the interest of justice or public interest to do so.” Weighing in all the aggravating and mitigating factors of the offence and defendant is a first time offender, “I am of the view a custodial sentence is inappropriate.”
Judge Alalatoa also notes that Defence Counsel submissions put forth that there was no need “to dwell on the need for deterrence in this situation as it is a one off situation unlikely to be repeated by you.”
Alalatoa in response says “with all due respect, we are here not only concerned with specific deterrence subjective to you but also general deterrence. The public interest expects it. This is not a trivial offence.” She also points out that the defendant will live with that guilt for the rest of his life which in itself is a tremendous burden to carry.
“I take into consideration your old age and the fact you have had an impeccable record and a person of good character as evidenced in the testimonials submitted on your behalf and favourable pre-sentence report. “You have outstanding personal qualities and have served your family church and village well and with loyalty throughout the years. The offence is out of character.
“Lauina, you are at the end of the day a husband, father, grandfather. You are deserving of mercy and leniency.”
Lauina was sentenced to pay forthwith and by 4pm Friday in default of three months imprisonment, court fine sum of $800; prosecution costs of $200 and $300 to probation service to assist with youth programmes.