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Home detention for manslaughter of infant son

31 Mar 2023

| Author: Jasmine Jackson

Ngawhika was found guilty of the manslaughter of her infant son.

The jury was satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Ngawhika had intentionally suffocated her son but was not satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that she intended to cause him significant bodily injury or knew her actions would likely cause death. The jury rejected the infanticide defence.

Ngawhika was noted to have established a supportive and safe home for her two children but she herself had experienced significant mental health issues since childhood, brought about by contact with her own father. In the weeks leading up to her son’s death, Ngawhika suffered a major depressive episode, including psychotic elements of hallucinations and delusional paranoia. It was accepted that Ngawhika was experiencing a marked psychotic episode at the time of her son’s death.

A starting point of three years and six months’ imprisonment was adopted by the court to reflect that Ngawhika did not negligently cause her son’s death but deliberately cause it. No aggravating factors were identified.

The court allowed a 30% discount for her mental health at the time of her offending, a 10% discount for her personal background and therefore diminished moral responsibility and a further 5% to reflect remorse, a lack of previous convictions and her efforts to improve circumstances for her family.

Ngawhika was under the care and supervision of He Korowai Trust which noted that her long-term trauma and subsequent health issues were yet to be addressed. Subsequently, the court determined that it was in Ngawhika’s best interests that she remain engaged in the He Korowai Trust’s rehabilitation program.

Held: Ngawhika was sentenced to 12 months’ home detention at He Korowai Trust for the manslaughter of her infant son.

Jasmine Jackson is an Auckland criminal defence barrister, and member of the ADLS Parole Law Committee

2023-NZHC-520

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