A prominent Kaikohe community leader and "local hero" behind bars for cannabis supply is fighting her conviction - and lawyers say there is a "headwind" in favour of changing her sentence to home detention.
Kelly van Gaalen, a 38-year-old mother of three, was sentenced to two years imprisonment for possession of cannabis for supply on July 30 in the Kaikohe District Court.
Supporters, family and friends have condemned the sentence as harsh, sparking a "Free Kelly van Gaalen" movement.
Her appeal was argued in front of Justices Rhys Harrison, Paul Heath and David Collins at the Court of Appeal in Auckland today.
Van Gaalen was a former member of the Kaikohe-Hokianga Community Board, chair of the community arts council and worked for the Kaikohe Business Association. She also received a Local Heroes medal in 2014.
Her downfall came about by chance - a violent home invasion in 2014 where three armed men beat up her husband.
Police found a bucket and a snap lock bag full of dried cannabis. It weighed 684g.
Van Gaalen has said the marijuana was for personal use and to give to about 20 friends.
In court today, Kerikeri defence lawyer Grant Anson argued she deserved to return to Kaikohe and serve a sentence of home detention.
There would be no safety issue or temptation to re-offend for van Gaalen, he said, and frequent testing for cannabis in her system could be arranged.
"There's nothing that shows if home detention were imposed that that would fly in the face of other cases. It's hard to see how home detention could have been discounted in terms of a sentencing option.
"She's going back to a family home."
After questioning Mr Anson on how quickly home detention could be arranged, the three justices had a brief adjournment and stated the issue could be dealt with within 15 minutes upon re-entering the court.
Crown prosecutor Aaron Perkins said he understood where the case was going.
"I sense that there might be a slight headwind moving into [home detention]," he said.
"The Crown's position remains that there is no error by the judge. He's not fallen into [a] trap.
"Having said that, I do allow it's a stern sentence that has been imposed."
The decision was reserved, but Justice Harrison said the determination could be expected "very promptly".
A point of whether the jury was confused because of incorrect references to "sale or supply" of cannabis throughout the trial was also discussed - with Justice Heath stating the jury might have thought: "It says she supplied it, so she's guilty. That's the risk."
Mr Anson said there was no evidence van Gaalan had sold cannabis or supplied it to minors.
"She confirmed in her own evidence she had supplied cannabis to adult family members and friends within a trusted circle...but not to minors. That would mean she was not guilty of the offence she was charged with. That was a real concern."
The jury took several hours to determine she was guilty as a result of the confusion, Mr Anson argued.
Van Gaalen was found guilty in July despite 32 references professing her good character and work in the community from a range of people, including a former mayor, a principal and a pastor.
Her lawyer argued town beautification projects had ground to a halt after van Gaalen had resigned from her roles.
At sentencing, Judge John McDonald said he had to be consistent with sentences in similar offences, despite van Gaalen's good record and "extremely worthwhile contribution" to Kaikohe.
"To say this sentencing has troubled me is an understatement," he said.
Van Gaalen's husband was originally facing the same charge, which was dropped when she said the cannabis was hers. The family lodged an appeal in August.
A Givealittle donation page set up in van Gaalen's name has reached more than $7000 since she was convicted.
The page says van Gaalen was an "amazingly active and positive member of the Kaikohe community".
"The sentence is completely disproportionate to the charge. She was busted through circumstance and not because there were complaints laid to the police."
Money collected was put towards her family and helping the legal appeal, the page states.