Justice Vui cautions against predatory behaviour
Supreme Court Justice, Vui Clarence Nelson, has issued a stern warning to taxi drivers against taking “advantage” of young girls, noting the increasing prevalence of disturbing behaviour by drivers.
Justice Vui made the comments while sentencing a 38-year-old taxi driver, Petunu Lemi, of Vaipuna and Moata’a.
The defendant pleaded guilty to having sexual connection with a 13-year-old girl for which he was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment.
“The uncontested Police summary of facts indicates that about 10 pm on the night of 5 May 2019 the complainant caught the defendant’s taxi to visit a friend at Vaitele-tai to return her friend's phone," she said.
"The road to the friend’s home was rough so the defendant did not want to drive his taxi all the way to the house.
“When the defendant asked the complainant how she was going to pay [for] her taxi fare she told him she [had] no money and agreed to have sex with him as payment.
“At least that is what the defendant says. The couple then drove to a secluded spot at Taumeasina where they had sexual intercourse.”
Justice Vui further noted that the Police summary of facts says the defendant instructed the complainant not to tell anyone about their sexual encounter and gave her $5 tala.
“It would appear the money was in order to “buy her silence” as it were,” the Court heard.
The matter came to light when the victim’s mother saw her daughter being dropped off by the taxi and Police were contacted.
The defendant was originally charged with rape but this was subsequently withdrawn when the defendant then plead guilty to a lesser charge of unlawful sexual connection.
Unlawful sexual connection with a person between 12 and 16 years of age carries a maximum penalty of ten years’ imprisonment.
“It is no defence to this kind of charge that the complainant consented,” Justice Vui said.
“That is because the law is there to protect young girls from this kind of action by older and more mature men.
It is an unfortunate reality that the court sees a lot of this kind of charge these days involving young females.”
Justice Vui stressed that the complainant was only 13.
“The age difference between her and the defendant is 25 years. The defendant is a married man with, according to the pre-sentence report, six children and clearly he should have known better than to take advantage of a girl so young,” he said.
“The message needs to go out in unequivocal terms not only to all men but to taxi drivers in particular that if you have a young female alone in your taxi at night, your responsibility is to transport her safely to where she wants to go not to do other things to her.
“If you abuse the trust that your young passenger has put in you the consequences will be dire and one of these is you will end up in prison.
“The court's sentence must also denounce the defendant’s actions as totally unacceptable and send the necessary messages to the male members of our community and as observed in particular the taxi drivers.”
Justice Vui also noted the complainant got into the defendant’s taxi to run an errand not to have sex with him.
“It has been confirmed by the Probation Service that there has been the necessary apology and reconciliation,” the Judge said.
“They say you and your wife have apologised to the complainant and her family. I give credit to your wife for standing by you, in the circumstances not many women would, sir.
“This is a large factor in your favour. I will deduct one year from the balance of your sentence, leaving three and a half years.
“Some deduction needs to be made for your guilty plea because that has saved a  year old girl from publicly testifying and reliving this incident. The plea also means the court is saved the time and expense of a trial and represents an expression of your remorse for your offending.”
The defendant was convicted and eventually sentenced to two years in prison.