The man who stole a car with a young baby girl inside at a Whangārei petrol station has been sentenced to home detention, as a judge says the prolific offender can still turn his life around.
Sean Broderick, 53, was completely unaware the baby was sleeping in the back seat when he took the car from the forecourt in May this year.
"Mr Broderick, to be perfectly clear, is not charged with kidnapping," defence lawyer Daniel Schellenberg said.
"He did not know the baby was in the car."
That had come as a shock that his client had described as a wake-up call, he said.
"It really upset him. He was frankly ashamed of himself."
Broderick was transient and stuck in Whangārei around the time of a lockdown, and the car had seemed a chance to get back to Waikato, the lawyer said.
While he was not under influence when he took the car, the 53-year-old had been struggling with drug addiction around that time.
"He wants to change things. He is sick of being in and out of jail," Schellenberg said.
Broderick had already been sentenced to imprisonment 113 times, the court heard.
"In my submission, imprisonment does not work for this man," Schellenberg said.
Judge Ema Aitken said the victim - who has permanent name suppression - had been under some stress, needing to get petrol before an appointment.
In her rush, she turned the engine off but left the keys in the ignition as she stepped out to prepay, the judge said.
"Her baby was asleep, secured in the rear back seat, and as it transpired a blanket had been placed over the baby."
The victim herself acknowledged there was no way to know about the child without lifting the blanket, the court heard.
Broderick got into the car and drove about 3km before police saw him, Judge Aitken said.
"You were travelling at speed. They were aware that the car had been reported stolen."
Broderick travelled too fast around a sharp right turn, losing control of the vehicle and mounting a footpath before colliding with a rock retaining wall.
The car veered back across the road and crashed into a parked vehicle.
Broderick continued to drive, going over the retaining wall of a neighbouring driveway.
The car dropped about a metre down the embankment.
He then fled the scene.
"The baby was unharmed and remained restrained in the rear of the vehicle," Judge Aitken said.
"As best her mother can discern, she looks to have slept entirely through the incident.
"She was checked by St John's ambulance staff, deemed fit and healthy."
The Auckland District court judge said it was "spur of the moment" offending, but the car was extensively damaged.
Broderick was identified through CCTV footage and a DNA profile, the court heard.
In the interview that followed, he said he had seen a "sudden opportunity" to leave Whangārei.
He then panicked when he saw the flashing lights.
Broderick wanted to meet the victim to apologise face-to-face and had also written her a letter to share how sorry he was.
"I regard your plea of guilty as effectively reinforcing what is very clearly genuine remorse in this particular case," the judge said.
The driving offences he admitted were: unlawfully taking a motor vehicle, failing to stop, driving while disqualified, and dangerous driving.
Broderick had also pleaded guilty to escaping custody on August 26 and one charge of breaching intensive supervision when he failed to report on March 19.
"You have demonstrated profoundly manipulative behaviours in the past," Judge Aitken said.
"And in general terms, it is fair to describe you as a persistent and varied offender who is assessed at very high risk of re-offending."
But on the other hand, Corrections acknowledged that inadvertently taking the baby had a significant impact on him, she said.
"You see this very much as a turning point."
In essence, Broderick was asking for the chance to show he could change, she said.
While incarcerated, he had for the first time been able to engage with te reo and his Māori culture, she said.
"What is remarkable, in my view Mr Broderick, is that in that context you have learnt, lead and taught kapa haka. You are described now as an accomplished bone and wood carver.
"You want to share your progress. You want to mentor others."
In handing down the sentence, Judge Aitken also took into account the time already spent in custody.
Broderick was sentenced to six months' home detention, with six-month post-release conditions.
He is not allowed to possess or consume alcohol or non-prescription drugs.
He was also disqualified from driving for eight months and has volunteered to pay $1000 in emotional harm reparations.
"You can't change the past but you are absolutely able to influence the future," the judge told him.
She urged him to take the sentence seriously and take advantage of the programmes provided.
"Then there is every chance that you can turn your back on that way of life," Judge Aitken said.
"Every chance that you will never go back to prison. Every chance that you can go on to be the mentor, the peer that others would look up to.
"You have obvious skills. You have obvious talents. You need now to do that really difficult work on yourself.
"You need to see this very much as a last chance."