Jail term avoided despite 'quite blatant' offending

A Kaitangata woman involved in importing the drug MDMA has avoided jail, a Dunedin judge taking the view a community-based punishment would be a better option than prison for Annette Webb.

In the past, the High Court had allowed importers of more serious drugs than MDMA to be given home detention, so why should such a sentence not be available to the defendant, Judge Kevin Phillips said in the Dunedin District Court yesterday.

Webb (43) was charged, with a Dunedin man, with importing MDMA last August and possessing the class C drug for sale.

She originally pleaded not guilty but, in January, asked for a sentence indication and was told she could expect a sentence starting at two years and four months' jail.

Webb accepted the indication but public defender Campbell Savage yesterday asked for a 20% reduction in the starting point, to take into account the defendant's guilty plea.

He said that would take the sentence to below two years which meant home detention could be an option.

The defendant had found an address suitable for an electronically monitored sentence, and would be better off continuing her rehabilitation in the community rather than in prison, Mr Savage said. She knew a lengthy home detention term would be difficult and a slip-up would mean prison.

While not agreeing with a 20% reduction, Crown counsel Marie Grills said she would not oppose a lengthy term of home detention on the basis it would not work.

The defendant was said to be willing and able to comply with such a sentence.

Had she been convicted of such offences five or 10 years ago, she would have gone to prison for at least two years, Judge Phillips told Webb.

The offending was clearly pre-meditated and ''quite blatant''. But he took into account the defendant had not been present when the money for the drugs was transferred.

The package had come to her, she had supplied her co-offender with his portion of the drug and also organised the ''deal'' bags.

There was no doubt the drug was intended for sale, the judge said.

Webb had admitted her part in the $12,000 to $18,000 import of 62.5g of MDMA, although she initially pleaded not guilty to the charges.

She had prior convictions for drug offending but they were a long way in the past.

And, importantly, she had been a drug addict for a large part of her life, reportedly having a major addiction since the age of 16.

She had clearly had no chances in the past for an electronically monitored sentence, the judge said.

Taking into account the steps Webb had taken in starting Community Alcohol and Drugs Service counselling and having clean drug screens for three months, Judge Phillips sentenced her to nine months' home detention - ''12 months would be impossible for you'' - and 250 hours' community work.

While on detention, Webb is not to use or possess alcohol or illicit or non-prescription drugs and she must complete any alcohol and drug treatment programmes, including a residential programme, as directed.

Her detention is to be followed by six months' post-detention conditions with the same treatment and programme requirements.