Rich person’s justice?

The outcry over the case of Aucklander Nikolas Delegat, from the wealthy Delegat family,  is perfectly understandable.

What happened that late night in March last year makes dire reading.

Delegat punched a hole in a window after becoming angry about a remark made by a friend about his girlfriend.

He attacked a Campus Watch staff member, throwing punches at the man’s face, causing him to slip,  then kneeing the grounded man in the face.

He also lashed out at arresting police, attempting to headbutt and kicking out at them.

He knocked a constable unconscious with a closed fist and threw at least three more subsequent blows.

At the Dunedin Central police station he was verbally abusive  and refused to answer questions.

He was charged with the aggravated assault of the constable, the assault of the Campus Watch staff member, wilful damage of a window and resisting arrest.

He, subsequently and unsuccessfully, sought name suppression through the District Court in Auckland, the High Court and the Appeal Court, and in the meantime the most serious charge was amended to  assaulting a police officer with intent to obstruct her in the execution of her duty.

That, in itself, is more serious than common assault and carries a potential prison term of up to three years.

Judge Kevin Phillips, in the Dunedin District Court this week,  rejected a call for a discharge without conviction and sentenced Delegat to 300 hours’ community service and ordered him to pay $5000 emotional harm reparation to the police officer he punched.

The constable’s injuries resulted in concussion and 15 hours’ hospital treatment and she is still suffering from headaches.

On the face of it,  the sentence seems incredibly light.

But, as the Law Society has pointed out,  Judge Phillips’ decision was standard and reasonable given the charge and various circumstances.

Having an expensive lawyer made little difference at the time of final sentence.

Other young (Delegat was 18 at the time) first offenders who had pleaded guilty, shown (we are told) remorse and who had been involved in restorative justice with some of the victims could well have received similar treatment.

And prison should be a last resort for young first offenders.

Some queries, nonetheless, do arise; not so much about the actual sentence but about the process before the day in court this week.

Was the police evidence effective enough for more serious charges to stick?

Was it in fact one moment of stupidity or could intent have been proved?

After all, the assault continued when the Campus Watch man was on the ground and when the constable was knocked unconscious.

And the consequences to the constable were such it could even be argued she was subject to grievous bodily harm.

Do lesser charges recognise police lack the skills, front-line training and time to take this  type of violence as seriously as they should?

Or was the prosecution  expedient, knowing the charges decided on were likely to  bring a guilty plea? 

Was this more prudent than running risks with trial uncertainty? 

Given the costs and effort a trial and the number of major Dunedin cases coming up, was it better to cut and run?

It is here the rich factor could come into play.

The Crown must have known  Delegat and his family had the resources and will to fight every step, as was illustrated by the repeated attempts at name suppression.

How much better to, in effect, plea bargain, and at least secure a guilty plea.

The New Zealand justice system will, inevitably, have its biases and weaknesses. 

Those with money, education and position  have substantial advantages.

But it is, at least, a positive sign Nikolas Delegat was able to obtain neither name suppression nor a discharge without conviction.

That, and the massive amount of publicity, will have significant impacts on his life. 

He made grievous mistakes that night and is paying a price.

Comments

Restorative Justice is not compulsory for victims. Constable Kane chose not to attend. Another officer was proxy. I don't think RJ was complete in this case, and neither should the injured constable have been expected to attend. The prolonged assault of a woman (at work) is unconscionable, regardless of the judiciary, or, frankly, the Establishment.

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