A sentencing decision for a man who stole a vehicle with a child in the backseat has been delayed until next month.

Lawyers debated how 19-year-old Johnathan Ryann Gunville should be sentenced Wednesday morning in North Battleford Provincial Court.

“This is a very emotional case, I think you’d be un-human if you didn’t feel the impact,” defence lawyer Bill Archer told reporters outside court.

The defence pushed for 18 months to two years in a provincial institution.

The Crown argued Gunville deserves a three-year sentence in a federal prison.

Gunville admitted to stealing an SUV – with an autistic and epileptic six-year-old girl in the backseat – from a North Battleford parking lot in September. Gunville didn’t intend to steal the child and “panicked” according to an agreed statement of facts. The 19-year-old left the vehicle, with the girl still inside, behind bushes in North Battleford’s industrial area.

After Gunville left the vehicle, he walked to the casino to meet his father, court heard.

Following the Amber Alert, Gunville made an anonymous tip to police. He claimed he saw the SUV, but lied and said he didn’t know where it was.

After 14 hours, the six-year-old was found safe by nearby workers.

“It’s a rare occurrence. He’s not going out around the community trying to abduct children, or run away and ditch them somewhere. This was just a bad happenstance,” Archer said.

The defence lawyer said Gunville belongs in Sask. Hospital or in a provincial institution, as he has a long list of intellectual and cognitive issues after being dropped on his head as an infant.

“They’ll eat him alive. That’s my biggest fear,” Archer said, referring to a federal institution.

The Crown said Gunville is best served in a federal facility, citing his assault charges while at Sask. Correctional Centre in remand.

“Mr. Gunville has demonstrated through his past behaviour that rehabilitation is not something that’s going to be successful in his case,” said Crown Prosecutor Lee Hnatiuk.

Hnatiuk said Gunville’s history of stealing vehicles and evading police, despite having a driver’s license, doesn’t make him a good fit for society – citing Gunville’s theft of a truck just days after the Amber Alert.

The six-year-old’s mother read a victim-impact statement to the court.

"We lived 14 hours of every parents' worst nightmare," she said, holding back tears.

The judge said he needs more time to make his sentencing decision.

He told court sentencing will be adjourned to Feb. 20 – Gunville then looked up, smiled and said, “that’s my birthday.”