Conviction quashed on appeal; judge ‘overstepped’

A Canadian woman who felt "bullied" by a judge into pleading guilty has had her conviction quashed on appeal.

Heather Gleason-Beard threw a drink on a man who made a comment about her breasts in a Queenstown bar on July 9, 2017.

However, the glass connected with his face, cutting his top lip.

Ms Gleason-Beard went to court to argue before a jury that she had only intended to throw the liquid at the man, and was therefore not guilty of wounding with intent to injure.

But, on the morning of the trial, Judge Mark Callaghan took Ms Gleason-Beard and her counsel Liam Collins into chambers and gave what amounted to an unrequested sentence indication.

He repeatedly told them she faced a prison sentence unless she pleaded guilty and questioned whether she had a defence against the charge.

Ms Gleason-Beard was then kept in a holding cell.

After a formal sentence indication later that morning at 10.30am, she was held again in the cells until she eventually decided to plead guilty to a lesser charge of injuring with reckless disregard, at 2pm.

She was convicted and sentenced to 100 hours’ community work and ordered to pay $5000 reparation.

Court of Appeal justices Williams, Brewer and Thomas, who heard the appeal in Invercargill on July 24, found Judge Callaghan "overstepped his role", resulting in a miscarriage of justice.

Justice Thomas, in a written judgement, said: "It is not for a judge to give advice to a defendant, which is what happened in effect in this case, or to undermine the advice already given to Ms Gleason-Beard by her lawyer.

"The transgression was particularly serious, given the continued efforts of Mr Collins to resist the Judge’s approach."

In an affidavit, Ms Gleason-Beard described feeling "bullied and belittled" and being kept in the cells was "dehumanising", and made her feel alone and pressured into pleading guilty.

The justices accepted appeal barrister Nathan Bourke’s contention that the fact she was required to consider the sentence indication while held in a custodial environment — the holding cell — compounded the matter.

Justice Thomas said: "She has been told by the judge who was to preside over her trial that he doubted she had a defence to the charge and that he considered she would struggle to receive a sentence below two years’ imprisonment.

"Ms Gleason-Beard was then put in a custodial environment and asked to consider the sentence indication of community work.

"In our view, Mrs Gleason-Beard’s decision to plead guilty in these circumstances, notwithstanding her defence and counsel’s advice, was understandable and, indeed, rational."

They found Ms Gleason-Beard did have a "sufficiently substantial defence" to the more serious charge of wounding with intent.

Ms Gleason-Beard has since returned to Canada, after already completing the community work and paying the $5000 to the complainant.

The conviction was quashed and the justices accepted Mr Bourke’s submission that it was not in the interests of justice to order a retrial.


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