- Woman "didn't live in area with public transport"
- Driver says charge was her first offence
IT used to be a blood-alcohol reading that determined whether a person was convicted of drink driving - now, it's a postcode.
Sydney woman Jasmin Clair Henley, 27, escaped punishment for driving under the influence yesterday because she lives in an area with no public transport.
In a decision that could set a dangerous precedent - and put people who live in remote areas above the law - a magistrate dismissed the charges against Ms Henley, finding she had no viable alternative to get back to her home at Cattai, north of Windsor, in Sydney's west, after attending a work dinner in the Eastern Suburbs.
"If she lived in any other suburb around Sydney . . . like Paddington . . . there's no way on earth I would consider dismissing the charge," magistrate Brian Maloney said.
Ms Henley recorded a blood-alcohol reading of 0.067 after police stopped her on the Cahill Expressway last month.
Facing the magistrate in the Downing Centre Local Court yesterday, Ms Henley had her low-range drink driving charge dismissed without conviction.
Mr Maloney said he would treat the case as if he was passing sentence in a country court, because there were not enough public transport options open to people living in the northwest corridor.
"It's not like she could jump on a 333 bus to Bondi," he said.
He said the former North Sydney TAFE student ought to move closer to the city if she wanted to have a few drinks over dinner, where she could travel home without risking her own safety and that of other drivers.
"Drinking and driving causes fatalities," he said.
He also quipped that as a past employee of Riverside Oaks Golf Course, Ms Henley would've seen first-hand the ill effects of alcohol on many a drunken golfer.
The magistrate noted that Ms Henley claimed to have only had two drinks at the work function, held at the London Hotel, but he warned that alcohol could be "biased" in effecting women more than men due to their generally smaller body mass.
Ms Henley told The Daily Telegraph she was relieved to have kept her licence because she would not able to get to and from her workplace in the Eastern Suburbs by public transport.
She said she was in danger of having her licence suspended for a minimum of three months if Mr Maloney had not taken her remote address into account.
"I really need my licence, especially living out here.
"It would be too hard to get anywhere. There are no buses at all that come past my house and the nearest train station is Mulgrave, at least 20 minutes away."
Ms Henley said she has never caught a taxi home to Cattai because the fare, about $175, is too costly.
"I've never been in trouble before. This is my first offence. I know I'm really lucky."
Lionel Rattenbury, a partner at Armstrong Legal who was not involved in the case, said the sentence was not manifestly inadequate and within the acceptable range for low-end drink driving offences.
Most offenders in the low-range are fined and have their licenses suspended for three to six months, he said.
Citing the Court of Criminal Appeal, he said the significant effect of license disqualification on a person's ability to earn income and function appropriately in the community should be factored in when applying sentences.
Mr Rattenbury also believed the decision wouldn't affect any future drink driving cases.
"The judgment of one magistrate has very little effect upon the judgments of others," he said.
"The law is clear and set out in the guideline judgment."
- With Larissa Cummings and Nathan Klein at The Daily Telegraph.