Crown to appeal baby assault sentence

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Three of New Zealand's most senior judges will today hear a rare appeal against a home-detention sentence imposed on a young Hawke's Bay father for assaults in which he broke his infant daughter's legs.

The 12-month sentence, which was to be served at the flat of a new girlfriend, was imposed on James Robert Hall in the High Court in Napier in August.

He had pleaded guilty to two charges of causing grievous bodily harm relating to incidents leading to the girl's admission to Hawke's Bay Hospital in March last year, when she was just 4 months old.

One represented reckless disregard for the child's safety in a number of incidents in the first few months of her life.

The second charge stated intent to injure in the incident which resulted in the admission to hospital.

Shocked staff found both the girl's thigh bones broken and an older fracture of the left tibia.

Hall, aged 18 at the time and now 20, admitted that when alone with the child in his care he would grab her foot and bend her leg up her back.

According to police, he had said that once or twice it was in anger, but while he meant to hurt the girl he was not realising what he was doing.

Crown prosecutor Russell Collins asked Justice Mary Peters for a sentence calculated from a "starting point" of four years. But defence counsel Scott Jefferson argued home detention was possible if the judge used a starting point of 2 years and applied appropriate deduction for Hall's youth and acknowledgement of guilt, which meant there was no need for a trial.

Justice Peters applied the deductions and, considering a need for Hall to be earning an income to help support his daughter, took the potential jail sentence below a two-year threshhold, enabling the consideration of home detention, which has been a sentence available to judges in New Zealand since the start of a pilot project in 1995.

Amid widespread public condemnation, an appeal by the Solicitor General against the sentence was lodged and will be argued today by representatives of the Crown Law Office before the three Justices in the Court of Appeal in Wellington.

A spokesperson for the office said for such an appeal to be lodged it needed to be considered that the sentence was manifestly inadequate. There were only nine such appeals in the year to June 30 this year, and only 16 in the previous year.

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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