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In Queensland (Qld), both the crimes of murder and manslaughter are considered grievous offences against another person. Anyone who commits these crimes could receive the maximum penalty.
However, based on the circumstances of the case, the court might decide to give a less severe penalty. If facing any of these charges, it is advisable to seek the assistance of an experienced criminal lawyer.
In this article, we will be examining everything that has to do with the crime of murder and manslaughter. This includes definitions, elements, penalties, and possible defences to these charges.
In the state of Queensland, murder and manslaughter offences and penalties are legislated in the Criminal Code Act 1899 (Qld).
If an individual is convicted for the offence of Murder or Manslaughter in Queensland (Qld), the offence will show up as a disclosable court outcome (DCO) on the results of their Nationally Coordinated Criminal History Check in QLD.
A murder or manslaughter offence is amongst the most serious indictable crimes in QLD and will remain on an individual’s criminal history check result for life.
The crime of murder falls under the general term of homicide. According to Section 302 of the Criminal Code Act 1899 (Qld), murder refers to when a person unlawfully kills another individual under certain circumstances. These circumstances are that:
Under any of these circumstances, a Queensland court can find a person guilty of committing the crime of murder. However, it is also essential to note that a person could still be guilty of murder if they had no intention of causing the death of anyone when taking part in an illegal activity that has a high probability of endangering human lives.
A person can cause the death of someone not only directly but through other means such as threats or intimidation. For instance, in a situation of domestic violence, the wife could commit suicide in a bid to escape a violent partner.
Furthermore, if a person injures another individual in a place where there is no means of getting medical assistance, the person can still be guilty of murder. The court will not consider that the individual would have survived if they had been able to get medical attention.
There are some elements that the prosecution must be able to prove in a murder case. Failure to adequately prove these elements could result in the accused facing a less severe penalty. It could also cause the accused to be acquitted. These elements include showing that:
In Queensland, the state can charge an individual with murder based on reckless indifference. Reckless indifference refers to when an individual carries out an illegal action, knowing fully well that it could result in the death of people.
An example of this is an individual driving above the speed limit in a street that they know is usually busy. If such a driver kills a person in the process, they could be guilty of murder.
The penalties for murder in Queensland are stiff. Section 305 of the Criminal Code Act 1899 (Qld) states the following penalties for the case of murder:
When charged with murder, there are different defences that a person can raise. These defences fall under two categories - full defence or partial defence. A full defence completely exonerates a person from the crime of murder, while the partial defence seeks to prove that the crime committed is not a murder case but a case of manslaughter.
The essence of raising a partial defence, i.e., trying to turn a murder case into one of manslaughter, is for the accused to get a less severe penalty. Here are some of the common defences to murder:
#1. Self Defence
Self-defence is a countermeasure that involves defending against an attack on one's well being and health. This defence legally justifies the use of force when confronted with danger. Therefore, a self-defence claim is a complete defence.
This means that if the accused can prove to the court beyond all reasonable doubts that they committed homicide when trying to defend themself against harm, the court can acquit them of the murder charge.
However, they will have to show that the degree of force used in defending themself was proportionate to the danger perceived. Once the accused raises the self-defence, the prosecution has the responsibility of convincing the jury that their actions do not amount to self-defence.
The defence of insanity is a partial defence. Successfully proving it means that the defendant would be charged with manslaughter instead of murder. However, the accused can only successfully raise this defence if there is sufficient proof to back the claim that they committed the crime while suffering from a mental condition. And the mental illness must be one that made them have little to no control over their actions.
In Queensland, everyone is presumed to be sane until proven otherwise. As such, the Mental Health Court is responsible for determining if indeed, the accused was of unsound mind during the time they committed the crime and if they are fit to stand trial.
An accused may also raise this defence if they committed the crime of murder while being involuntarily intoxicated.
#3. Lack of Intent
Lack of intent is a defence that falls under partial defence. The accused could claim this defence if they did not intend to cause death or serious bodily harm. If the accused can successfully prove this defence beyond all reasonable doubt, the court may decide that the case is that of manslaughter instead of murder.
Claiming a provocation defence can help to relegate a murder charge to a case of manslaughter. However, the accused will have to prove that the heat of the moment was a sufficient basis for their actions. Also, they would need to show that they acted in the heat of the moment while their emotions were high.
Like many other criminal cases in Queensland, the burden of proof for murder rests on the prosecution. The prosecution has the responsibility of proving to the court that the accused is guilty of committing the crime of murder by using all necessary evidence.
Manslaughter is another grave offence in Queensland. According to Section 303 of the Criminal Code Act 1899 (Qld), manslaughter refers to when a person unlawfully kills another individual under certain circumstances.
These circumstances consequently prevent the offender from being accused of murder. Here are the circumstances under which killing another individual can be classified as manslaughter:
This is a situation where a person carries out the act of killing in the heat of passion resulting from sudden provocation.
Diminished responsibility refers to when a person commits the crime of killing another individual, whether through their action or omission, due to the abnormality of their mind, making them incapable of controlling their actions.
In an event where the deceased had abused the offender and the offender killed, whether through action or omission, to protect themself against serious bodily injury or death, the offender will be charged with manslaughter instead of murder.
In Queensland, there is a need for the prosecution to prove beyond all reasonable doubt the presence of certain elements in the case brought before the court. Failure of the prosecution to prove these elements might lead the person accused of a crime to be acquitted. This also applies in the case of manslaughter.
Convincing the court that the accused is guilty, the prosecution will have to prove that:
The word unlawfully can either refer to the actions or inactions of an individual that go against what the law authorises, excuses or justifies. Furthermore, it is noteworthy that multiple defendants can be convicted of committing the crime of manslaughter.
If the accused hires an attorney, the lawyer will start by analysing the strengths and weaknesses of the case. Also, they would try to determine if the prosecution can prove all the elements of manslaughter.
Section 310 of the Criminal Code Act 1899 (Qld) states the penalty for manslaughter to be life imprisonment. However, unlike murder, the law does not say that there is no room for mitigation. This means that the court can decide to impose a less severe sentence depending on the circumstances of the case. The law also did not provide any minimum penalty.
In several cases, defences are raised based on the evidence of either the defendant or the prosecution. In proving a particular claim, the prosecutor or defendant can call in witnesses to back their claim.
As such, the defendant's attorney must carry out all due diligence by determining the evidence that the prosecution might have before appearing in court. Consequently, this will help the attorney to build a strong case in favour of the defendant.
There are various defences that the accused can claim in a case of manslaughter. Raising these defences can result in receiving a less severe sentence for the crime of manslaughter. Some of these defences include:
When facing charges for the crime of manslaughter, the defendant can make use of this defence in mitigating the penalty the court intends to pass. However, it is up to the Mental Health Court to decide if a person was of unsound mind when they committed an offence and are currently fit to stand trial.
In many situations, manslaughter is unintentional. To build a strong case, the accused may need to show the court that their action was an accident that almost anyone could make. Consequently, proving this can result in a minimum sentence for the accused.
A person could claim this defence if they killed another individual to escape death or serious bodily injury. Claiming this defence could lead to the accused being acquitted. However, there is a need to prove that the force they used in protecting themself was proportionate with the danger perceived.
In most situations, it is the lawyer that advises the accused on the best line of defence. As such, it is crucial for a person charged with manslaughter to seek the assistance of an experienced attorney.
Furthermore, it is vital to note that some defences may not be applicable in a case of manslaughter. For instance, a defendant may be unable to raise the defence of provocation.
In the event of manslaughter, the burden of proof is on the prosecution. This means that the prosecution will try to prove all necessary elements in the case. However, after that, the defendant may decide to raise a particular line of defence. When this happens, the burden of disproving the defence automatically falls to the prosecution.
There are several critical differences between murder and manslaughter. Having a proper understanding of murder or manslaughter can help a person charged with any of these crimes to know what they are up against.
However, Queensland considers both offences as being grievous and, as such, offenders face life imprisonment sentences. Therefore, because of how serious these offences are, it is in the best interest of any accused person to seek proper legal representation.
If an individual is found guilty for a murder or manslaughter offence in QLD, the offence will show up as a disclosable court outcome (DCO) on the results of their national criminal history check.
Individuals can obtain a criminal history check online via the Australian National Character Check - ANCC® website.
Criminal Code Act 1899 (Qld) - https://www.legislation.qld.gov.au/view/html/inforce/current/act-1899-009
Criminal Code Act 1899 (Qld) (Austlii References) - http://www5.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/qld/consol_act/cc189994/
Corrective Services Act 2006 (Qld) - https://www.legislation.qld.gov.au/view/html/inforce/current/act-2006-029
Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council (Sentencing Spotlight on Manslaughter) - https://www.sentencingcouncil.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/518177/Sentencing-Spotlight-on-manslaughter-July-2017.pdf
Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council (Maximum Penalties) - https://www.sentencingcouncil.qld.gov.au/about-sentencing/maximum-sentences
Queensland Government (Murder, attempted murder and manslaughter) - https://www.qld.gov.au/law/crime-and-police/types-of-crime/murder-attempted-murder-and-manslaughter
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