The 2002 Sentencing Act states that an offender should not be discharged without conviction unless the court is satisfied the direct and indirect consequences of a conviction would be out of all proportion to the gravity of the offence.
This, said Judge Phil Gittos, was so in the case of Sergeant Jason Lamont, who admitted driving last August while nearly 50 per cent over the legal alcohol limit. The police officer's experience and standing in the force meant it would not be in the public interest to have him convicted and out of a job.
Mr Lamont remains, therefore, a serving member of the Auckland police, albeit the subject of a code of conduct inquiry. He should consider himself fortunate.
We concur, and said as much in our blog-post. And the Herald reveals that the defence submission may not have told the whole story - read on (our emphasis added):
It is easy to see why the framers of the sentencing law thought it necessary to provide this sort of out clause.
They would have been thinking of professional people, leaders in their fields, who would be barred from undertaking important public services if they were convicted for relatively minor offences. But for such latitude to be shown, the consequences must surely have to be set in stone.
That is not the case with Mr Lamont. The rules on whether a police officer is automatically dismissed after a drink-driving conviction are unclear. The police, themselves, can assess an officer's value and the punishment warranted by his conduct.
The nature of the offence would be part of that process. In this instance, it is one that the police have campaigned against unstintingly for many, many years. Drink-driving has, in fact, been a focus of their efforts to lower the road toll.
OK - so a conviction might NOT have been career-ending for Sgt Jason Lamont. Goodness, isn't that a little bit different from the eloquent plea in mitigation from his lawyer?
And in closing, the leader writer gets right to the heart of the issue in this case:
Judge Gittos's decision flies in the face of the recent conviction of a Northland officer for drink-driving. Senior Constable Ross Kneebone pleaded guilty but also applied for a discharge. Judge Duncan Harvey said, however, that he should not be treated differently from others. Police also opposed the application. That course should have been followed in the instance of Mr Lamont.
Letting him off does not stand scrutiny on several grounds. Inevitably, it also raises the suggestion that the Sentencing Act provides the foundation for different classes of citizenry. That, clearly, was not the intention of those who passed it. Decisions such as this serve only to open the justice system to popular scorn and derision.
People who appear before the court should not, except in the most exceptional circumstances, expect favoured treatment because of their occupation.
In the case of the police, this is especially important because they can do their job effectively only if they enjoy a bond of trust with the public. That is endangered if the police do not receive proportionate sanctions for their offences and misjudgments.
In this case, an officer has benefited from a disproportionate slice of judicial largesse.
You'll get no disagreement from us on any of the above. This is, on the face of it, a very ordinary decision by the District Court Judge, which flies in the face of the concept that we are all equal in the eyes of the law. Clearly, some are more equal than others.