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Judge says transwoman’s identity is a “lifestyle choice”

Posted in: New Zealand Daily News
By Daily News staff - 14th October 2015

Gisborne District Court’s resident judge Warren Cathcart, who has only been serving since July, has rejected a transgender defendant’s request for a reduced sentence on grounds that her “lifestyle choice” should not give her special privileges.

Daytona Haenga, aged 29, pleaded guilty to four charges of using a document to obtain a pecuniary advantage. Haenga used an elderly woman’s eftpos card over a two day period, extracting $2038 from her account at ATM machines.

She has been sentenced to eight months imprisonment and ordered to make full reparation within 28 days of being released or arrange to do so by installments.

Haenga’s defence counsel pushed for a reduced sentence highlighting the fact that Haenga’s prison sentence would be “disproportionately severe”’ as a transwoman in a men's prison.

The reduced sentence plea was rejected by the Judge who said he had not been presented with any case law authority to suggest someone must be given a greater allowance because of their gender identity. This is
despite an earlier “incident” which occurred while Haenga was remanded in custody forcing her into segregation. Evidence to the extent to which Haenga’s prison experience would be “disproportionately severe” was not presented in court.

Judge Cathcart told the stand-in defence counsel, Elliot Lynch, that Haenga had made a “life choice” and other offenders would not get credit if facing the same charges.

Lynch, who is said to have not wanted to speak about this matter, said he did not know if Haenga’s lifestyle resulted from "nature or nurture”.

The original story highlighting the case ran in the Gisborne Herald and refers to Haenga using male pronouns. Gisborne Herald editor Jeremy Muir says since the article went to print the newspaper has amended their policy when referring to a persons gender and in future articles will refer to a person by the gender they identify as. put questions to the Ministry of Justice however a representative from the Judicial Office says it is not appropriate for the office or the Ministry of Justice to respond to questions about individual Judges' personal beliefs.

“A Judge can only be properly influenced by the law and the facts of the case as he or she finds them. In this way, decisions are impartial, fair, and decided according to established legal principles,” she says.

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