The High Court has ruled a young Northlander's conviction for unlawful assembly during a brawl by rival gangs was disproportionate to the gravity of his offending.
In quashing the conviction of promising league player Bronson Stevens, Justice Patrick Keane said Stevens' desire to get work in Northland to support his family unhampered by the conviction was a "very live" consideration.
Stevens, 20, was sentenced in the Whangarei District Court to three months' home detention in December after pleading guilty to unlawful assembly at the Z service station in Kaikohe in May of that year.
A brawl broke out between the Tribesmen and Bloods gangs and Steven's argument when he unsuccessfully applied for a discharge without conviction in the district court was although he picked up a spanner during the fight, he did so in self defence.
He said he was not a member of any gang and had pulled up at the service station for fuel. He argued a conviction could affect his ability to travel overseas as a professional league player.
But this did not wash with sentencing Judge John McDonald, who said Stevens had to be held accountable for the offence which was serious, like others who participated in the brawl.
Appealing his conviction in the High Court, Stevens said Judge McDonald was wrong to hold him equally accountable for the unlawful assembly with those primarily responsible and to align him with the Bloods' gang.
If his appeal against conviction failed, Stevens said he would appeal his sentence, especially the eight-month starting point taken by Judge McDonald, which was the same as for the most culpable offenders. Justice Keane agreed that the sentencing judge was incorrect to fix an eight-month starting point for all offenders.
"Highly material to the gravity of his offence, I consider finally, is that despite having lived in an economically deprived area and having cousins and friends associated with local gangs, at the age of 20 Mr Stevens had remained conviction-free.
"A first conviction for him at that age and in those circumstances was a very significant detriment, especially given his minimal part in the offence," Justice Keane said.
He said if he had concluded Stevens deserved his conviction, he would have convicted and discharged him.