Editorial: Verdict leads to questions

SUSPENDED: Lawyer Douglas Taffs.
SUSPENDED: Lawyer Douglas Taffs.

So you're out on the road, heading home after a couple of drinks, and you see the flash of red and blue lights in the rear view mirror. The message is clear, you need to pull over.

So what would you do? Pull to the side of the road, as you know you should, or carry on driving a little further, knowing home is just down the way?

The answer should be obvious. You pull over, produce your driver's licence on request, and if required, speak into a breathalyser; which shouldn't be a problem at all if you've been reasonably careful about your drinking.

But a case involving Westport criminal lawyer Doug Taffs, which was reported on in yesterday's Herald, raises some eyebrows.

Taffs, 59, was caught on August 19 with a breath-alcohol reading of 480 micrograms per litre of breath, 80mcg above the legal limit.

But the lawyer, who has three previous drink-driving convictions, escaped conviction on this charge because Westport District Court judge Michael Behrens ruled that the evidence had been "improperly obtained" as a breath test was conducted on Taffs' property.

"I find that New Zealand citizens have an expectation that police will not come on to their land and randomly breath test them," the judge said.

Which is a principle that not many citizens would have a problem with. And he undoubtedly stuck to the letter of the law in reaching his verdict.

The only sticking point here, and the reason for the raised eyebrows, is the understanding that police attempted to pull Taffs over about 200 metres from his house, but that he continued on to his property. The judge said he was not prepared to say Taffs had seen the police car's flashing lights, adding he believed Taffs had been surprised and concerned to find the officers in his driveway.

If that was the case, though, it's difficult to understand why Taffs didn't exercise his legal right to ask the officers to leave his property, instead submitting to the breath test that put him over the limit.

The point here is that it should presumably be possible for others who find themselves in a similar position to advance the same argument in their defence.

Assuming they too can say they weren't aware the police wanted them to stop.

It's an intriguing case, and one that should be taken to appeal. Such a precedent could create much angst for the police at a time when the country is trying to sell a completely different drink/drive message.

The Timaru Herald