Reckless driving conviction quashed; Supreme Court rules magistrate ignored evidence

The Supreme Court has overturned a conviction for reckless driving in the magistrate’s court.

Lord Chief Justice Whitten, presiding, criticised the magistrate’s ruling.

The judge said the Magistrate had failed to take into consideration relevant evidence.

On July 20, 2019, Sepastiano Mikaele was driving with his wife in Neiafu in Kameli about 1am. Their vehicle swayed onto the right hand side of the road and collided with a parked vehicle owned by Lupeni Tupou, causing TP$15,000 damage. Mikaele pleaded not guilty to a charge of reckless driving.

In February this year he was convicted by Principal Magistrate Mafi and fined TP$200.

Police officer Mo’unga Koluse told the magistrate’s court that Mikaele told him he had had a coughing fit which continued while his vehicle left the road and hit the parked car.

Mikaele repeated the evidence in court, saying: “I started coughing and I thought it would be alright and we just continued on going and the coughing just escalated.”

Argument was put on his  behalf that he could not be guilty of reckless driving because of the  coughing fit.

However, the Magistrate favoured evidence from the police that Mikaele smelt of alcohol, was drunk and had been speeding.

Lord Chief Justice Whitten was critical of Magistrate Mafi’s reasons for finding Mikaele was guilty.

“Unfortunately, the Magistrate’s reasons reveal a circumscribed view of the evidence and reasoning which failed to take into account not only the appellant’s own evidence about the events leading to the collision but, more importantly, the police officer’s account of the appellant having told him about the coughing fit leading to the collision,” Judge Whitten said.

He ordered that the conviction be quashed and the sentence set aside.

The matter was remitted to the Magistrates Court for a retrial before a different Magistrate.

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