Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Witness for the Prosecution

If one is a party to a civil case in Qld, you just turn up on the day & lurk anywhere in the environs of the courthouse, you will be called when the case is to be heard.

One of the quirks of the NSW court system is that all parties in any cases set down for that day, MUST wait inside the courtroom, all day, until called.

This is a royal pain.

One has nothing to do but witness proceedings in any cases heard before yours.

In this case, Mine Host had a grandstand view of the tail end of a criminal matter.

From what Mine Host could piece together (coming into the case part way through) The owner of a kebab shop was answering a charge of receiving stolen goods. Specifically, an (expensive) commerical espresso machine.

The police prosecutor took us through where the machine was found (in storage at the shop) & listed lots of other stuff which had been found at the home of the accused (hot DVD's & various other similar stuff, all inside cupboards & cabinets near the TV).

It didn't look good for the accused, it was the instinct of Mine Host that the kebab shop owner, a young fellow from Turkey, was guilty.

Thus far Mine Host & the police (and the magistrate, as could plainly be seen) were on the same page. All believed the Turk was guilty.

However this differed dramatically when the accused appeared as a witness and the police prosecutor began to examine him.

The Turk was operating a kebab shop in a shopping centre.
The Turk lived somewhere away from the shopping centre.
The Turk was the single parent of a 12-14yo lad.

The stolen goods were (a) a $10,000 or so espresso machine (requiring significant repair) useful in the shop, but not able to be used, and (b) a pile of consumer electronic leisure software (DVD's) the titles indicating they were unsuitable for young children. (note: not XXX stuff, just stuff unsuitable for children)

There was no indication that the espresso machine was stolen, except the police said it "must have been". There was no complainant, nobody identifying the machine as their stolen property, no match with a serial number of a stolen machine etc etc etc. Incredibly, the Police Prosecutor went on to list many other items of equipment found in the storage locker with the espresso machine, all of which "must" be stolen, but that no charges would be brought for these other items (hammers, saws, various small tools).

This standard evidence.. must be allowed in NSW courts.

The DVD's were branded with the name of a local video rental shop, which had reported a break-in several months previosly, and the loss of an unspecified number of DVD's.

Under cross examination, the Turk's story was:
1/. The coffee machine was offered to him cheap by an unidentified stranger who came into his shop.
(Implausible, Mine Host does NOT believe, Magistrate & Police Prosecutor actually swallowed this part of the story whole)

2/. The coffee machine was deposited at the shopping centre loading dock by unknown persons and a shopping centre janitor alerted the Turk that a delivery had been made for him.
(Highly likely, stolen or not, Mine Host believes this part, Magistrate & Police Prosecutor clearly did NOT believe this. They seemed amazed that anybody would be asked to believe that ANYTHING is left anywhere, even at a business loading dock, to be collected later by the person whose name is attached to the parcel)
(- Until confronted with events like this, one forgets how clueless about real life experiences of the population are the police & magistrates. )

3/. He had not seen much of his house, or son, as he was working a zillion hours per week in the shop, and slept on the sofa in the first room. And for weeks on end not entering any part of the house except the sofa and the shower (outside).
(Having done the same himself, Mine Host believes this, it is consistent with about 120% of small food businesses operators, especially in the early stages.) (Cluelessly the Magistrate and Police Prosecutor clearly thought this was made up, that nobody would work so hard, or fall asleep for weeks on end just inside the door of their house)

4/. He knew that lots of DVD's were in his house, had no idea that any of them were "hot", or that any of them were inappropriate for children the age of his son.
(Mine Host, can imagine what he would have got up to at that age, if dad was at work 25 hours each day.)
The Magistrate was having none of this, declaring that all parents keep a watchful eye on the type of DVD's their kids are viewing, and found the Turk guilty.

Just like that.

Almost weak kneed at the total and complete cluelessness of the magistrate, Mine Host was about to say something, but was silenced by a glare from the bench.

For Mine Host had spoken out earlier in the cross-examination, when the Police Prosecutor and Magistrate had both latched cunningly onto what was (in their mind) a fatal flaw in the Turk's story: that no paperwork (invoice etc) had been given at the supposed time of sale of the espresso machine.

Compounding their (seemingly non-stop) public display of cluelessness, both Mag & PP patently disbelieved the accused when he stated that he did all his deals "in cash, without paperwork".
(Gee, how do these dickheads think half the NESB fast-food economy operates?)

So deep ingrained in Mag & PP was cowardice in the face of the citadel of bureaucracy, that they were unable to conceptualise middle class citizens having the drive and enterprise to ignore government bulldust.

Indeed, for the Turk, streamlining his business by ignoring as much paperwork as possible was likely the only reason his head had been above water.

Mine Host's outburst? He had stood up and wearily stated to the court, mainly at the Police Prosecutor "Crikey, don't you fellers have any idea what you are talking about?" At the time the questioning had been deep into the intricacies of machinery depreciation and the applicability of GST. The PP hadn't the fainest clue what he was talking about, and had taken to turning to the public gallery with a confused & desperate face, hoping someone would come to his rescue.

As had indeed happened, the party who had brought Mine Host to court, the financial controller in a big corporation, scurried forward to confer with the police prosecutor and help the prosecution rescue their case.

There was no evidence presented in court that the espresso machine was stolen, and a strong liklihood that the son or some inappropriate companions of his were responsible for the DVD's, the prosecution should NOT have had a case.

Mine Host bristled with sympathy for a fellow traveller (ie, small business operator being squashed by the system - in this case being found guilty of being being someone whose makeup sufficiently confused a Magistrate, such that the Magistrate was completely unable to identify with the Turk.)


Sackerson said...

A compelling account.

Anonymous said...

what was his punishment (aside from the complete waste of time, money and resources this case took up?)

Mine Host said...

No idea what the sentence was, it was handed down on a later day.