ACT News

No jail for father who shook his baby causing severe brain damage

An intellectually impaired man who shook his crying baby in a tragic moment of frustration, causing irreversible brain damage, will not serve time behind bars.

The newly-made father, whose disability has left him with an extremely low IQ, was home alone with the three-week-old girl in the days after Christmas in 2010.

His wife and her mother had left the pair to go shopping.

When they came home, they discovered something was terribly wrong.

The girl was pale and still, her eyes closed shut.

The father said nothing had happened but later confessed to becoming frustrated when he could not stop her from crying.

Annoyed, he picked her up and shook her, causing what the ACT Supreme Court described on Friday as "profound and irreversible" brain damage.

She will be dependant on the care of others for the rest of her life.

In sentencing the father on Friday, Chief Justice Helen Murrell said the act had left the baby and her mother facing a lifetime of hardship.

"For them these proceedings will offer little comfort," she said. 

"I hope they find the strength and courage to deal with this very challenging situation."

The father's severe intellectual disability and an untreated bipolar-like disorder were integrally connected to his actions, the court found.

The man's conditions meant he struggled to interpret situations and understand what was happening around him.

He had little insight into his own difficulties and the impairment meant he became frustrated and aggressive quickly.

He had an untreated bipolar-like disorder and was severely depressed.

Chief Justice Murrell said such a crime would normally attract a stern punishment.

But she said the moral culpability of the father must be considered in the context of his intellectual impairment. 

"I accept that the conditions suffered by the offender are integrally linked with the offending behaviour," she said.

Chief Justice Murrell said it would be contrary to the community's interests for the father to be imprisoned.

His conditions meant he had little knowledge of the wrongfulness of his actions, that he was not an appropriate vehicle for deterring others from such behaviour in the community, and that he would suffer extra hardship in prison and be exposed to anti-social behaviour.

Putting him behind bars, she said, would also take away a valuable support network he had in the community. "I accept that it would be contrary to the community's interest for the offender to be incarcerated," she said.

Chief Justice Murrell sentenced him to 13 months and two weeks imprisonment, but fully suspended the sentence. 

He will need to be of good behaviour for the next two years. 

The court was told the brain damage would impact the child, now almost four, in every facet of her life.

She is just starting to be able to crawl and can interact, but is heavily dependant on others.

Chief Justice Murrell said her ongoing security and wellbeing would require the support of both sides of the family.

The man was charged with a negligent act causing grievous bodily harm and the court found the crime sat in the most serious category for that offence.