Allegation to Trial – The Making of a Murder Charge

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Newcastle Murders

A 32-year-old man has been charged with murder after an alleged fatal stabbing in Bolton Point on Sunday. This is the fourth alleged murder to have occurred in Newcastle over the last two months.

Late last year, three murders are alleged to have occurred across an eleven-day period in Newcastle. The incidents, which occurred between 8-19 December, resulted in five men being arrested and charged.

The incidents

Police and emergency services were called to Leumeah Place, Bolton Point late Sunday night following reports that a man had been stabbed. A 35-year-old man was treated by paramedics before being transported to John Hunter Hospital, where he later died.

On 8 December a man was allegedly shot at a home in Maryland in what the police allege was a targeted attack. Police surrounded a home in Wallsend at around 1 am on 9 December and conducted extensive negotiations for around 3 hours before the alleged gunman emerged from the house. He was then charged with murder and refused bail.

Police also allege that a 60-year-old man by the name of Philip Steele was murdered at his Whitebridge home on 17 December, after three men allegedly attacked him with knives and bats. All three men have since been charged with murder.

Two days later, on 19 December, an altercation is said to have occurred after a collision on the Pacific Highway in Belmont South. During the altercation, it is alleged that a man drew a knife and stabbed the other driver in the neck multiple times. The man died as a result of his injuries, and his alleged attacker was charged with murder.

Murder vs manslaughter

According to the law in NSW, any act (or failure to act) that results in the death of another person is considered a ‘homicide’. Homicides are then divided into two categories: murder and manslaughter. The offences of murder and manslaughter are outlined in section 18 of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW).

The key distinction between murder and manslaughter is intention. Where there has been an intention to commit murder (or an intention to cause grievous bodily harm) the accused will most likely be charged with murder. Where the killing has been unintentional, the accused will most likely be charged with manslaughter.

What does the prosecution need to prove?

As is the case with all criminal offences, an accused is to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. This means that the prosecution bears the burden of proving the charge beyond reasonable doubt.

Intention

In order to secure a conviction for murder, the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that the accused intended to kill the person (or cause grievous bodily harm to the person). This can only be achieved if the prosecution is able to demonstrate any of the following circumstances:

·      The accused intended to kill the person (the individual deliberately caused the person’s death)

·      They intended to inflict grievous bodily harm (GBH) upon the other person. The prosecution must prove that the accused deliberately caused grievous bodily harm to another person, which led to the other person’s death. GBH refers to a very serious injury such as broken bones or any permanent or serious disfigurements.

·      The accused acted with a ‘reckless indifference to human life’. The prosecution must prove that the accused knew, or ought to have known, that their actions (or omissions) would probably result in the death of a person.

·      Where the death occurred during (or immediately after) the commission of a serious offence. In this context, a serious offence is classified as one that is punishable by 25 years imprisonment.

Causation

The second element that the prosecution is required to prove is that the accused’s actions actually caused the person’s death. The prosecution will only be able to prove this element if they can demonstrate that the accused’s actions were the ‘substantial and significant cause’ of the other person’s death.

If the accused’s actions were not the substantial cause of the death, or there has been a break in the chain of causation, then the accused may escape conviction.

Penalties

The maximum penalty for murder is life imprisonment. The penalty is often discretionary, and the sentence imposed will depend on a vast array of factors that are unique to each case.

The penalty imposed will also depend on the characteristics of the deceased, for example, a court will impose a mandatory life sentence for the murder of police officers (if their murder has been committed while they were executing their duty).

Generally, the penalty for murder carries a non-parole period of 20 years, meaning 20 years is often the minimum penalty imposed.

If you, or someone you know, has been charged with a criminal offence and needs advice or representation, please contact Hamilton Janke Lawyers 24 hours a day, seven days a week on 4038 1666 (office hours) or 0422 050 502 (24/7).

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