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  • Home Resources & Technical Articles Criminal Offence Topics (A to Z) Murder and Manslaughter Offences Murder and Manslaughter Offences and Penalties in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT)

    Murder and Manslaughter Offences and Penalties in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT)

    Murder and manslaughter are among the most severe charges in the Australian Capital Territory. In this jurisdiction, the Crimes Act 1900 (ACT) handles cases that involve such charges. These offences carry a maximum sentence of life in prison, but the punishment passed can vary from offender to offender depending on the prevailing circumstances

    Murder

    Section 12 of the Crimes Act 1900 (ACT) defines murder as intentionally causing death to another person, with reckless disregard for the risk involved, or with the intent to cause significant harm to any other person, regardless of who the victim was. A convicted perpetrator risks the maximum term possible: life in prison.

    The prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant acted with malice to convict them of murder. If insufficient evidence exists to substantiate the petitioner's contention that the suspected murderer meant to kill their victim, murder charges may be downgraded to manslaughter.

    Murder as an indictable offence in the ACT

    In Australia, most indictable crimes such as murder and manslaughter are prosecuted before a Supreme Court Judge or Jury. This is since only a higher court has the power to hear cases involving indictable offences with harsher penalties (such as a lengthy jail sentence). A Magistrate's punishment would be insufficient in this instance, owing to the seriousness of the charges.

    Homicides are on the list of the most serious crimes in the Australian Capital Territory. Indictable crimes in the ACT are the most serious kind of criminal offence, and convictions for them will show as a disclosable court outcome (DCO) on a person's ACT national police check.

    In the ACT, It is only the Supreme court that may handle some indictable crimes. Unlike many other Australian States and Territories, the ACT lacks an intermediate court (higher than a Magistrate Court). Consequently, any matters that the Magistrate Court cannot handle are heard by the Supreme Court.

    Before a matter is sent to the Supreme Court, the Magistrate must decide if the evidence or circumstances are sufficient. A committal hearing is a broad word for the method used by a Magistrate Court to perform a preliminary assessment for a potential "Supreme Court" trial.

    Penalties and sentencing in the Australian Capital Territory

    If you are found guilty of murder by a court, you will face severe legal consequences. The Crimes Act 1900 (ACT) outlines criminal (indictable) offences and the corresponding penalties.

    The Judge's Sentencing will adhere to the rules established by the Crimes (Sentencing) Act 2005 (ACT). Murder is an indictable crime with one of the most severe punishments. Murderers in the Australian Capital Territory face life in prison under Section 12 of the Crimes Act.

    An indictment for manslaughter or unintentional killing is another serious offence in the ACT with a punishment of 20 years in prison or 28 years in more extreme (aggravated) circumstances.

    Manslaughter

    While both murder and manslaughter entail the illegal killing of one person by another, manslaughter nonetheless carries a minor charge compared to murder. Section 15 of the Crimes Act 1900 (ACT) defines manslaughter in the Australian Capital Territory as an unintentional killing. It is a killing that one did unwittingly, accidentally, or due to criminal carelessness that might be considered manslaughter.

    Manslaughter is an indictable offence in the ACT

    Manslaughter and intentional killing are indictable offences that carry severe penalties. Manslaughter may be committed when a person is provoked to kill another person and loses their ability to control their actions. This might happen when someone is being provoked. Weapons are commonly involved in incidents of this kind.

    Crimes of passion are to blame for many manslaughters. When someone is enraged by jealousy or provoked, it is common for them to lose self-control. Those who commit these types of killings are typically law-abiding people who express deep regret for what they have done.

    Assault offences in the ACT, house invasions, Arson offences in the ACT and other violent crimes may lead to killing of another person.

    Nevertheless, the ACT imposes a 20-year jail sentence on a manslaughter offender who is proven guilty.

    Aggravated Manslaughter

    In the ACT, if a person kills another unintentionally where the victim is an older person, a disabled person, or a child, the offender faces up to 28 years in prison. This crime will be treated as aggravated manslaughter of an elderly individual, a disabled person, or a child. Another example is killing an emergency medical technician (EMT), police officer, firefighter, or paramedic while on duty.

    The Key Difference Between Murder and Manslaughter

    While both manslaughter and murder are homicides, the primary difference is whether the culprit ‘willfully’ meant to kill another person or cause grevious bodily harm.

    Manslaughter is a verdict that is reached when a jury determines that the defendant had no willful intent to murder or badly hurt the victim. In circumstantial cases with unclear evidence, prosecutors may struggle to demonstrate the defendant's intentions or mental state at the time of the homicide.

    No time limits for charging homicide offences in the ACT

    There are no time constraints on when an individual may file a charge for murder or manslaughter. This implies that an indictable trial may begin decades after the crime occurred, particularly in the circumstances involving solid proof.

    While establishing an indictable offence over a long period might be difficult, the processes remain the same. The same provisions apply to an indictable trial for a current offence committed in connection with a past crime.

    Manslaughter and killing without intent are indictable offences that carry up to 20 years’ imprisonment and 28 years in aggravated circumstances.

    Appealing murder and manslaughter charges in the ACT

    The ACT has a special division of the Supreme Court that handles all appeals from the Court’s decisions. The ACT's Court of Appeal was established in 2002. Previously, all appeals in the ACT were handled by the Federal Court of Australia.

    In the ACT, the Court of Appeal is composed of a panel of three judges who hear and decide all appeal charges that come before the Court.

    Anyone who files an appeal must do so within 28 days of receiving the initial sentence or conviction. Additionally, the petitioner must submit the court any convictions, sentences, and orders imposed by a preceding court.

    Manslaughter as an alternative charge

    If a person is charged with murder in the ACT and the jury determines that the accused lacked intent to kill, the accused must be acquitted. However, they'll be prosecuted with manslaughter under Section 13 of the Crimes Act 1900 (ACT). Provocation is a frequent occurrence that results in the reduction of charges from murder to manslaughter.

    Provocation occurs when the deceased's gravely offensive conduct toward or effect on the accused causes the accused to lose control. It happens when the dead's conduct can cause an ordinary person in the accused's situation to lose self-control to the point of desiring to kill the deceased or being recklessly indifferent to the probability of causing their death.

    Defences to Manslaughter or Murder

    To be acquitted of a murder or manslaughter accusation, any of the following defences may apply:


    Self-Defence

    One often-cited defence for homicide is that the accused was acting in self-defence. The accused's lawyer must establish that they responded to a comparable threat or actual violence and that the reaction was proportionate to the context.


    Accident

    If the defendant can demonstrate that the death was the product of an accident, they may instead be found guilty of manslaughter.


    Mental incapacity

    A person accused of manslaughter may claim in defence that they were suffering from a mental handicap at the time of the alleged behaviour. The individual may be found not guilty under Section 28 of the Code if it is proven that they had a mental disability that caused the following effects:

    • It made them unaware of the nature of their behaviour
    • The accused did not realize the behaviour was improper; or
    • They could not maintain control of the behaviour.

    Additionally, a person accused of manslaughter may successfully claim the defence of stress or a sudden and extreme circumstance.


    Other defences may include:

    • The defence of another. This refers to the right of a person who acts to protect a third party (another person) with reasonable force that is used against the other person who is threatening to inflict the act of force upon the third party whom the person is acting to protect.
    • The accused did not cause the crime or was compelled to do it against their will by someone else.
    • Provocation;
    • Insanity.

    Bail

    If you post bail on an accused individual while they await trial, you guarantee their attendance in Court by putting money down as security.

    The chances of getting bail for murder or aggravated manslaughter charges in the Australian Capital Territory are slim unless in rare circumstances. However, it would be best to retain the services of a qualified and experienced lawyer to help you through the bail application process.

    Wrapping up

    Murder and manslaughter are considered homicides since they result in the death of another person. Apart from manslaughter, the Australian Capital Territory prosecutes individuals for a variety of additional murder offences.

    The ACT Supreme Court is open to hearing cases involving murder and manslaughter in the jurisdiction.

    To be judged guilty of murder, there must be evidence that a person meant to kill. Murder charges may be downgraded to manslaughter if the complainant's claim that the accused murderer acted intentionally is not substantiated by evidence.

    Will a Murder or Manslaughter Offence in the ACT show up on a national criminal history check?

    If an individual is found guilty for a murder or manslaughter offence in the ACT, the offence will show up as a disclosable court outcome (DCO) on the results of their national criminal history check.

    A murder or manslaughter offence will remain on an individual’s police check for life and will not be eligible for the Spent Convictions Scheme in the ACT.

    Individuals can obtain a criminal history check online via the Australian National Character Check - ANCC® website.

    Sources

    Crimes Act 1900 (ACT) - https://www.legislation.act.gov.au/a/1900-40

    Crimes Act 1900 (ACT) (Austlii References) - http://www5.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/act/consol_act/ca190082/

    Crimes (Sentencing) Act 2005 (ACT) - https://www.legislation.act.gov.au/a/2005-58

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