A young nanny's accomplice who kidnapped a newborn baby as she slept in her cot will not be blighted with a conviction, the Court of Appeal has ruled.
The Crown challenged the sentence given to Sydnee Shaunna Taulapapa, 19, after she donned a balaclava and crept into the home of an Epsom family to snatch a baby girl during the early hours of August 9 last year.
She had been deceived by her 22-year-old delusional cousin, Nadene Faye Manukau-Togiavalu, into fulfilling her pregnancy fantasy.
Manukau-Togiavalu was working for the family as their nanny at the time.
It was one of the most bizarre cases to hit Auckland's courts this year, with Manukau-Togiavalu going to great lengths to carry out her scheme - including a hoax baby shower and pregnancy suit to convince her family and friends she was pregnant.
At Taulapapa's sentencing in April, Justice Peter Woodhouse discharged her without conviction but ordered her to complete 400 hours' community work and pay $2000 to the baby's parents, or a children's charity.
The money was donated to fertility research.
After pleading guilty, Manukau-Togiavalu was sentenced by Judge Nicola Mathers to three years' imprisonment in July.
She was convicted of kidnapping, burglary, criminal harassment, making an intimate visual recording and dishonestly using a document.
Taulapapa had also pleaded guilty to kidnapping and burglary in April, but the Crown wanted her convicted.
At a Court of Appeal hearing in late August, Crown solicitor James Carruthers said Justice Woodhouse gave too much weight to Taulapapa's employment consequences if blighted by a conviction.
Taulapapa had expressed some desire to join the army and Justice Woodhouse also considered she may not have been able to return to Australia if she was convicted.
She had been holidaying in New Zealand and visiting family at the time of the kidnapping.
"This was still a premeditated and masked burglary of a family home and the kidnapping of the family's baby," Carruthers said.
"It is something of a stretch to conclude the consequences are really comparable to the seriousness of the offending."
Counsel for Taulapapa, Nicholas Chisnall, argued Justice Woodhouse had made the correct, if "exceptionally difficult", decision given the unique circumstances of the case.
He said the judge recognised Taulapapa was manipulated by her cousin and acted out of loyalty, despair and fear.
Manukau-Togiavalu told Taulapapa she gave birth but her baby was adopted out and now she wanted it back.
Chisnall said a conviction would "frustrate [Taulapapa's] ability to seek employment".
"Potential employers are unlikely to look beyond the prejudicial elements of this case," he said.
Today, the Court of Appeal released its decision.
Giving the court's reasons, Justice Forrie Miller said the central question of the appeal was "how much allowance should be made for youth and cultural influences".
"In this case Ms Taulapapa did have a career in mind," he said.
"Although she had not done anything about joining the army, it was open to the judge to find a real and appreciable possibility that she would do so."
Justice Miller said the three judges, which included Justices Jillian Mallon and David Gendall, assessed the gravity of Taulapapa's offending as "low" and less serious than Justice Woodhouse did.
"We agree with him that the harm done to the parents, which was and remains considerable, is primarily attributable to Ms Manukau-Togiavalu," Justice Miller said.
"In our opinion, low culpability offsets the judge's error about the travel consequences and his too-emphatic view of the employment consequences for Ms Taulapapa. For these reasons we are not persuaded that he was plainly wrong in his conclusion that the consequences will be out of all proportion to the gravity of the offending."
After the appeal hearing, the baby's parents, who have permanent name suppression, told the Herald they believed Taulapapa "knew full well what she was doing".
"Our world was turned into a living nightmare after Sydnee crept up our back steps, broke into our home wearing a balaclava and kidnapped our newborn baby," the father said.
"She had our 11-day-old baby for over seven hours, during which at any time she could have ended our nightmare by returning her to us."
The parents and about 80 police launched a major search to find the newborn.
Taulapapa was found in Manukau-Togiavalu's Suzuki Swift in the suburb of Favona. Sitting next to her was the unharmed baby.
The father added: "Sydnee pleaded guilty and is recorded on video, so how can she be discharged as if she is not guilty? And what message does that send to her and other potential kidnappers?"