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.
According to the law, murder is committed where an accused person’s act (or failure to act) causes a person’s death; and the act is carried out
- Intentionally (this means the accused deliberately caused a person’s death)
- With reckless indifference to human life (this encompasses situations where the accused person knew, or should have known, that their actions were likely to result in a person’s death)
- With an intention to cause grievous bodily harm to a person (‘grievous bodily harm’ refers to a really serious injury – such as broken bones or stab wounds).
- While committing or attempting to commit a really serious offence which carries a maximum term of imprisonment of 25 years (such as sexual assault).
If the above elements cannot be proven beyond reasonable doubt, the accused person may be convicted of manslaughter.
The prosecution is also 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.
The maximum penalty that can be imposed for murder is life imprisonment.
The penalty imposed may 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).
A charge of manslaughter might eventuate when an accused ‘s act has caused another person’s death but where there is insufficient evidence to establish a murder charge.
Manslaughter is sometimes referred to as unintentional or accidental homicide. There are two categories of manslaughter:
- Voluntary manslaughter – this is where an intentional act causes a person’s death.
- Involuntary manslaughter – this is where the act that caused a person/s death was completely unintentional. It usually requires some kind of gross negligence on behalf of the accused.
The maximum penalty for manslaughter is 25 years imprisonment.
How can I defend myself?
Being charged with murder or manslaughter is often a very stressful experience.
The charges are serious, so it is important to talk to an experienced criminal lawyer who can advise you of your rights and give you the best prospects of defeating the charge.
An experienced criminal lawyer will be able to determine the availability of complete or partial defences to the charge, some of which include:
- Self defence