One of the country's worst repeat drink-drivers has been jailed for two years after his 20th conviction for drink-driving and his 35th for driving while disqualified.
Andrew Tawhara, of Kerikeri, is "a very real and serious danger to the community", Judge Keith de Ridder said during sentencing in the Kaikohe District Court.
The court heard that the 47-year-old was at a friend's place drinking on April 22 when he asked his partner to pick him up. Because she had eye trouble, he took the wheel, and was driving on the Kerikeri Heritage Bypass when he saw a police checkpoint ahead.
Tawhara stopped about 50m short, did a u-turn and tried to drive away, but was stopped by police and blew an alcohol reading of 613 micrograms per litre of breath. The limit is 400. A police check found he was also a disqualified driver.
Crown prosecutor Nicole Dore said the two-year maximum sentence for either of the charges was not enough to show society's abhorrence of serious, repeated offences.
Nicole Dore is absolutely right on both counts. A two-year maximum sentence is manifestly inadequte for offending on this scale, which is totally abhorrent. But what REALLY caught our eye was this bit:
Tawhara's 19 previous drink-drive convictions spanned 1980-2008, and he had been jailed for the past four. She called for his sentences to be served one after the other.
Are they actually suggesting that it took 15 convictions for drink-driving before Tawhara was imprisoned? We would certainly hope not! How many chances has this bloke had?
And even more concerning is the 35 convictions for driving while disqualified. Clearly, Andrew Tawhara not only has a drinking problem, but also a problem with authority. When we were working in the justice system many, many years ago, the penalty for a second or subsequent offence of driving while disqualified was a maximum of five years imprisonment. Clearly, something has changed over the years ; enough to send a message to offenders that it's perfectly OK to flout Court-ordered disqualifications. This is one area where we would have little difficulty at all if the government was to significantly increase maximum sentences.
And after our criticism of the Isaiah Tai/Hawea Vercoe sentencing, we were delighted to read this bit:
Judge de Ridder told Tawhara the aim of sentencing was to denounce his actions, deter others and, most importantly, protect the community.
"You continue to repeatedly place the public at risk. Your history demonstrates a complete unwillingness to change," the judge said.
"You will drink when it suits you and, if it involves driving, you'll do that as well.
"Given your unwillingness and inability to do something about it, you are a very real and serious danger to the community."
Judge de Ridder discounted the two-year maximum for each sentence by a third for Tawhara's guilty pleas, then lifted it back to two years for aggravating features.
Because the two offences were "inextricably linked", he said, the sentences had to run concurrently.
At least Judge de Ridder did the best with the sentencing tools available to him, which is commendable. Surely though, this case highlights the need for a review of the law regarding recidivist drink-drivers, before Andrew Tawhara is released from prison, drives whilst drunk again, and kills someone.