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Court not convinced: Judge refuses woman's request for discharge without conviction

A woman who wants to be a teacher was refused a discharge without conviction for a charge of using a document to obtain a financial advantage.

Vinila Jade Wawatai, 30, cleaner, appeared at a hearing in Gisborne District Court for her application to be decided but had since accumulated a new charge — a drink-driving offence, involving a breath alcohol reading of 1016 micrograms, the court was told.

Wawatai pleaded guilty to all charges and was sentenced to nine months supervision and 40 hours community work.

In relation to the fraud charge, she was ordered to make reparation of about $240.

Counsel Jackie Van Schalkwyk conceded the most recent charge (for the drink-drive) complicated matters to do with the discharge application. The drink-driving charge was aggravated not only by the high reading but because Wawatai had been speeding when apprehended.

Nonetheless the application for the discharge without conviction related only to the earlier fraud charge, a conviction for which would have much more serious ramifications for Wawatai’s career aspirations, Ms Van Schalkwyk said.

It might also have an impact on her present employment and ability to fulfil her parenting obligations, which also included responsibility for a relative’s child.

She noted it involved low-level offending of its type — it was not a case of Wawatai having stolen from a school or another employer.

Wawatai used a friend’s debit card, without permission, to purchase about $250 worth of alcohol, the court was told.

Judge Turitea Bolstad said the offending involved a breach of trust and premeditation, albeit limited.

She accepted it was a one-off offence, involving items of relatively low expenditure.

She noted from a cultural report, Wawatai was a young woman who had endured trauma throughout her life, which had resulted in her turning at times to alcohol — the real issue here, the judge said.

Wawatai told report writers she wanted to be a teacher to help children, so they did not need to suffer the way she had.

The judge noted this would not be a first criminal conviction for Wawatai. She had previous convictions for driving while disqualified, breaching community work, drink-driving, and this fresh drink-driving charge.

Wawatai’s assertion she was attempting to address her alcohol use was pleasing, but there was nothing before the court to confirm that, Judge Bolstad said.

Similarly, there was no solid evidence of how a conviction for this offence would affect her chance of studying to become a teacher. A transcript of her academic record was dated.

Police and the judge referred to higher court authority, which said the courts, in dealing with these types of applications, needed to take guard against usurping the right and ability of an overarching professional body to fully vet applicants wanting to join its profession.

In her view, it was important professional bodies or boards were aware of applicants’ histories, in order to make decisions that would uphold the integrity of the profession, Judge Bolstad said.