Filipo maintains plea, sentenced to supervision

Wellington rugby player Losi Filipo, right, was discharged without conviction. Photo: Getty Images
Wellington rugby player Losi Filipo (right) was sentenced to supervision after pleading guilty to assault. Photo: Getty Images

Wellington rugby player Losi Filipo has avoided jail and been sentenced to nine months of supervision.

Filipo this morning maintained his guilty plea for an assault on four people in Wellington.

Justice Collins said Filipo stomping on the first victim's head was "a chilling act of violence" and could easily have killed the victim.

He said the minimum starting point for sentencing should be two years in prison.

Discounts for mitigating factors included Filipo's age (18), his lack of previous convictions, the rehabilitative steps Filipo has already taken voluntarily, and his guilty plea.

He was "in no doubt" the best sentence would be one that was short of prison.

"You have the opportunity to demonstrate that you are worthy of being a professional rugby player."

Justice Collins said he was satisfied a supervision sentence was appropriate, as was recommended by a probation officer.

He sentenced him to nine months of supervision with conditions to attend a drug and alcohol assessment programme and a living without violence programme.

Newshub reported Filipo possibly tried to dodge the media outside the court; it was believed Filipo's brother donned his shirt and left the courthouse as a decoy.

Filipo was originally given a discharge without conviction by Judge Bruce Davidson in the district court.

Crown prosecutor Sally Carter this morning said the Crown would not be seeking an imprisonment sentence, and that it had always advocated for a sentence below two years in prison, which could be converted to something other than jail time.

Filipo's lawyer Noel Sainsbury said "perhaps in irony", Justice Collins was required by the sentencing act to consider a discharge without conviction, along with other lesser sentences such as conviction and discharge, or an order to come up if called upon for sentence.

Mr Sainsbury addressed allegations Filipo's attack had ended one of his victims' rugby careers, but pointed out the victim returned to rugby after the assault and only quit after receiving a concussion, one of 15 concussions he had had since 2011.

Mitigating factors included Filipo voluntarily attending counselling, doing community work, and saving $1000 reparation money by cleaning cars.

Mr Sainsbury also spoke of Filipo's "character and situation". He pointed out Filipo was only 17 at the time of the assault. He also noted Filipo had no previous convictions.

He said Filipo had been doing voluntary work as a teacher's aide at a low decile school, prior to the assault.

"The theme that comes through is a young man with incredible promise, but also a young man that's struggling with a number of difficulties.

"A sentence that as best it can acknowledges the seriousness of offending but ensures that prospect of rehabilitation is the appropriate sentence," Mr Sainsbury said.

"The media hysteria that has followed this case is likely to mark him out for years to come."

He said Filipo would be unable to play professional rugby in Japan or the UK, and "unless he can revive his career in New Zealand in the first instance it's difficult to say how he can get into other markets".

"In my submission the most significant penalty for him is a conviction itself ... on that basis in my submission it would not be wrong for a conviction and discharge to be considered."

Justice Collins said Filipo was facing one charge of injuring with reckless disregard, one count of assault with intent to injure, and two counts of male assaults female.

He said the victims were walking along a central Wellington street on October 11 last year, when Filipo and his brother started a fight with them.

The victims said they did not want to fight, but Filipo grabbed one of them by the collar and punched him, knocking him out. He then stomped on the man's head four times as he lay unconscious on the ground.

He pushed one of the women in the throat, causing her to fall to the ground, and hit another woman to the ground.

His brother then "partially restrained" the other male victim while Filipo punched him.

The first victim was taken to hospital by ambulance and stayed there overnight.

One of the female victims said the scar left on her face from the assault had robbed her of her confidence in her work as a model.

Sainsbury said after the sentencing Filipo would not be commenting to the media.

He said Filipo wanted it noted he was sorry for the assault but now wanted to "get on with his life".

Last week Justice Collins overturned the discharge and allowed an appeal by the Crown.

He ordered Filipo's case be called today so Filipo could decide whether to keep his earlier guilty plea, which he only gave following a sentence indication that he would be given a discharge without conviction.

Filipo pleaded guilty to the early morning assault against two men and two women that happened while he was still in school.
Family First has come out in support of the sentence after it asked the Solicitor-General to appeal the "original weak and dangerous sentence".

"The rights of the victims to see justice, the community to be protected, and the sentence to be a deterrent to similar acts must be paramount in the sentencing of serious acts of violence," said director Bob McCoskrie.

"But just as vital are measures to prevent repeat-offending. The requirements for counselling for alcohol and violence are part of that solution.

"As a community, we are trying to say that violence is completely unacceptable - yet some of the sentences given by the courts are completely undermining that message. The previous offender-friendly sentence sent a dangerous message that we don't value the protection of victims and the safety of the public in a case that involved significant violence towards both males and females.

"The earlier judgment also communicated that punishments and consequences will be determined by who you are rather than what you did," he said.

"This is not about revenge as some will suggest. This is about an appropriate sentence which reflects the gravity of the crime, protects the public in the long-term, and communicates the revulsion that the public rightly has against these sorts of mindless acts - irrespective of who commits them."

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