By Colin C. Cortbus

Reporting from the Supreme Court in Koror

A sentencing judge at Palau Supreme Court heard earlier this week that a drink-drive convict had made a sincere attempt to better his life, finding gainful full-time employment six days a week. The judge sentenced the cash-strapped defendant, Elynson R. Tatingal, who had been unable to pay a court-ordered $250 fine, to community service among other punishments.

Tatingal, a middle-aged man, was pulled over by police late at night in March 2015, arrested, and subsequently charged with reckless driving and driving under the influence of alcohol. After he had been unable, despite repeated extensions, to pay a court ordered fine that had been part of a plea deal, he came before the court for sentencing.

Tatingal passionately explained to the court that he had been trying hard to keep himself out of trouble. He told the judge he had found full-time employment six days a week, and is now ready to make the right changes in his life.

The judge initially reacted sceptically, asking aloud, why, if Tatingal ‘could not be trusted to follow a simple order’ to pay a fine, he should be trusted to complete sentence of community service. However, as it became clear to the judge that Tatingal’s inability to pay the fine was due to genuine money problems, she sentenced the defendant to 60 hours of community service. This service, it is understood, will take place on Sundays, the only free day in Tatingal`s busy work shedule.  Additionally, Tatingal`s license was suspended for six months, after he confirmed he does not need to drive to get to work.  He was also placed on probation for one year, and sentenced to the legally-mandatory one-day prison sentence.

Legal counsel for Tatingal told the court that his client had spent time in custody after his arrest, and that the law did not place the burden of proof to demonstrate this on his client. A public prosecutor stated that they did not have a record of the exact time Tatingal was released from police custody back then, but did not doubt he had spent some time in custody between his arrest late at night and his interview by police the subsequent morning. It was requested, and later ordered by the judge that this time served in custody would be credited towards the one-day minimum sentence.

At the conclusion of the hearing, the judge told Tatingal he would be re-evaluated for any potential needs of help relating to alcohol habits. ‘Let’s she what help we can give you’, the judge said.