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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 Western Australia (WA)

    Murder and Manslaughter Offences and Penalties in Western Australia (WA)

    Manslaughter and murder are two of Western Australia's most heinous crimes.

    In WA, homicide-related crimes are dealt with by the Criminal Code Act Compilation Act 1913 (WA). Adults and minors convicted of murder charges face mandatory minimum sentences under the Act.

    The Road Traffic Act 1974 (WA) also outlines homicide-related charges in a traffic accident.

    A murder or manslaughter offence will show up on an individual’s criminal history check in WA as a disciable court outcome (DCO). Since the offences are a serious indictable crime in WA, the offences are not eligible to get expunged after a certain period of time under the spent convictions scheme legislation.

    Homicides: Murder and Manslaughter

    Homicide is the unlawful termination of another person's life, whether consciously or unconsciously and by any method. Homicide accusations are very grave and often entail long sentences, including life in prison. Therefore it would be best to get legal counsel immediately.

    Depending on the circumstances, any individual who illegally kills another is guilty of a crime classified as murder or manslaughter. However, more homicide-related charges exist, including the following:

    • Causing the death by threat;
    • Death as a result of severe physical injury;
    • Violent attack or an Assault in WA resulting in death;
    • Irresponsible driving (other than in a motor vehicle) that results in death;
    • Dangerous and reckless driving (of a motor vehicle) that results in death;

    Murder

    Murder is one of the most severe kind of crimes in Western Australia (WA) since it involves the willful taking of another person's life. The most heinous of these crimes include serial murders.

    According to WA law, an offender may be classified as a serial killer if the offender has taken three or more lives illegally over some time in two or more different incidents.

    If a person has been killed, an offender is guilty of murder under Section 279 of the Criminal Code Act Compilation Act 1913 (WA) if:

    • a) They intend to kill another person; or
    • b) They intend to inflict physical harm that would endanger, or is likely to endanger, the life of the victim or another individual; or
    • c) Death is the result of an act committed in furtherance of illegal activity, an act that is such that it is likely to threaten human life.

    For (a) and (b), it is irrelevant that the person did not intend to harm the person murdered. It is irrelevant, for (c), that the individual had no intention of harming anybody.

    Penalty for Murder in WA

    If an adult criminal is convicted of murder, they must be sentenced to life in prison unless:

    • In these conditions, it would certainly be unfair to execute a life sentence; and
    • If the criminal is freed, they are unlikely to pose a danger to the community's safety (in which case the accused must be sentenced to imprisonment for 20 years).

    A child (juvenile) criminal convicted of murder faces a potential sentence of life imprisonment or detention until released on the governor's authority.

    An adult who murders another person during an aggravated house burglary in WA faces a maximum punishment of life in prison. The minimum sentence is 15 years.

    A juvenile who murders another person during an aggravated house burglary faces a potential sentence of life imprisonment. The mandatory minimum sentence for a juvenile killer under such circumstances is three years in prison or detention. Courts in such cases must sentence the criminal to jail and may not suspend any portion of the sentence imposed.

    What the prosecutor must prove

    The prosecution must satisfy the jury beyond reasonable doubt that the principal offence meets the threshold for the accusation of murder.

    The prosecutor must prove at least one of the following:

    • The accused did a significant or substantial act that caused the victim's death or a sequence of actions that led to the victim's death;
    • The accused acted in conjunction with one or several others, all whose actions contributed to the victim's death considerably;
    • The accused committed an unjustifiable act of violence; it was not permitted by law.
    • The offender intended to cause death or injure the victim in a way that would put the victim's life in jeopardy.

    It is necessary to prove that the death happened while the perpetrator was pursuing an unlawful aim. The action that caused the death was likely to put the victim (or any other person) at risk of dying.

    Defences to a murder offence

    The most popular defences to murder are self-defence and provocation.

    Self-defence

    If the defendant was acting in self-defence, it may be a defence to a murder accusation. A successful defence of self-defence requires that the accused had a reasonable belief that the actions they took were required. There must have been an appropriate amount of force used in self-defence for it to be legal.

    If the defendant uses excessive force in self-defence, it might be included as a partial defence to a murder conviction (i.e., was not a reasonable reaction to the threat faced). The defendant is deemed guilty of manslaughter rather than murder if this is proven.

    Provocation

    For murder, provocation is not a complete defence. However, it may serve as a partial defence and can lead to the reduction of the charges. A successful appeal may result in a conviction for manslaughter instead of murder. The defence is applicable if the victim's provocative behaviour prompted the accused to lose self-control and murder the victim. It must have been dangerous enough to have led an average person to lose their composure and endanger themselves (Section 246 of the ).

    Mental disability and immaturity are also criminal defences that you may use in murder cases. Others are:

    • Accident;
    • Insanity.
    • Duress
    • Emergency
    • The defendant is not the person who murdered the victim; and
    • The offender's actions did not cause the victim's death.

    Where will a charge of Murder in WA be heard and determined?

    Murder is a serious offence. If convicted, the offender will face a sentence of life in jail. For such serious offences, the Magistrate Court will have to pave way for a higher court to decide. It is only the Supreme Court that can hear this offence.

    Manslaughter

    Manslaughter is where one kills another person but under circumstances that do not meet the strict definition of murder.

    For example, provocation can lead to manslaughter if a person is robbed of regulating their actions and kills another person unlawfully. Abuse or self-defence situations can lead to this type of behaviour. Violence with weapons is a common feature in cases of this type.

    There is a wide variety of possible punishments for manslaughter because it encompasses a wide range of circumstances. All manslaughter cases must be examined on their own merits.

    Defences to manslaughter

    Self-defence

    You can use self-defence as a complete defence against manslaughter. However, you must prove that you had reasonable grounds to think that your action was necessary for self-defence or defence of another party and that your conduct was proportional to the nature of the threat, considering all the facts.

    However, self-defence can also be used as a partial defence to manslaughter where the accused used unreasonable force. It means their actions were out of proportion to the danger they encountered. Manslaughter is a lesser charge than murder if it can be proven that the defendant acted in extreme self-defence.

    Provocation

    Provocation is a partial defence to manslaughter in Western Australia. It means that if provocation is successfully raised, the defendant would be charged with manslaughter rather than murder. This defence implies that an average person would have had no time to cool their rage before killing the victim if the provocative action had been extreme enough (Section 246 of the Criminal Code Act Compilation Act 1913 (WA)).

    If a person is charged with manslaughter, other criminal defences such as the claim of mental incapacity and immature age (if a defendant is under the age of 14) may be applicable. You may also defend manslaughter charges by arguing the following facts:

    • Defence of another person;
    • Insanity;
    • Accident.

    In other cases, the defendant was not complicit in the crime or was coerced into committing it by another.

    Death as a result of an Unlawful Assault

    A person is guilty of committing a crime under Section 281 of the Criminal Code Act Compilation Act 1913 (WA) if they illegally assault another person. If the assault caused death, the severity of the charges increases significantly. The assault that caused death can attract a punishment of 20 years in jail. Unlike manslaughter cases, a person can be prosecuted and convicted of this felony even if the victim's death was not expected at the time of the offence.

    If an illegal attack resulting in death occurs during an aggravated house robbery, the court in WA must impose a sentence of imprisonment of at least:

    • 15 years of the offender is an adult;
    • Three years for a minor.

    Death Due to Dangerous Driving

    If you cause an accident leading to death while under the influence of drugs and alcohol or driving dangerously, you are liable on conviction under Section 59 of the Road Traffic Act 1974 (WA). The maximum sentence is a 20-year prison term.

    Death as a Result of Driving Without Due Care and Attention

    Section 59BA of the Road Traffic Act 1974 (WA) stipulates that anyone who causes the death of another individual by driving a motor vehicle without due care and attention is guilty of a crime. For this crime, the maximum sentence is three (3) years behind bars or 720 penalty units ($159,840) in fines.

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

    If an individual is found guilty for a murder or manslaughter offence in WA, 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 national police check for life and will not be eligible for the Spent Convictions Scheme in WA.

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

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