Alcohol-Fueled Assaults (Qld)
The offence of unlawful striking causing death, otherwise known as the ‘one punch law’ was introduced by the Queensland Parliament in 2014 in response to an increase in alcohol-fueled assaults resulting in death. The Criminal Code 1899 was amended to add section 314A making out the offence of unlawful striking causing death. Amendments were also made to the Bail Act and Penalties and Sentences Act 1992 to address alcohol and drug-fuelled assaults. This article outlines the changes.
Alcohol-fueled assaults: unlawful striking causing death
Section 314A provides that a person is guilty of a crime if they:
- Unlawfully strike another person to the head or neck; and
- Cause the death of the other person.
Under this law, offenders are considered to have caused the death of the other person regardless of whether they intended the victim to die or foresaw death as a possible consequence of striking the blow. This means that there is no fault element required (eg intent) in relation to the victim’s death.
In Queensland, the offence of unlawful striking causing death carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment and prescribes a mandatory minimum sentencing regime, under which the court must order that an offender serves 80% of any term of imprisonment imposed or, 15 years (whichever is less).
Other amendments addressing alcohol-fueled assaults
A number of other amendments have also been made to Queensland legislation dealing with alcohol-fueled assaults.
Assaults on public officers
The Criminal Code has been altered to include harsher penalties for assaults on public officers which involve spitting, biting or application of bodily fluid or faeces, causing bodily harm.
Serious offences in public places
A further amendment was the insertion of Chapter 35A to deal with serious offences of violence committed in a public place whilst the accused was adversely affected by alcohol. Under the new chapter, a person is to be taken to be adversely affected by an intoxicating substance at the time of offending if they have recorded a BAC of more than .15 or tested positive for any drug, unless they can prove they were not intoxicated at the time of the offending.
Sentences for alcohol-fueled assaults
The Penalties and Sentences Act 1992 was also amended so that when a court is dealing with persons who have committed serious assault-fueled assaults it must:
- impose a community service order in addition to any other sentence;
- ensure that voluntary intoxication cannot be relied upon at sentence to mitigate a sentence.
The court may also ban the offender from in and around licenced premises for any period of time including lifetime bans if the court deems that appropriate.
The Police Powers and Responsibilities Act 2000 has been amended to ensure that police are empowered to conduct drug and alcohol testing to establish whether a person charged with the relevant offence was adversely affected by intoxicating substance for the purposes of triggering the mandatory community service order provision.
The Bail Act 1980 was also amended to create a mandatory condition of bail for offenders charged with prescribed offences of violence. The condition requires that these offenders participate in a drug and alcohol assessment referral programme.
Detention of intoxicated people
Safe Night Precinct Support Services were introduced in the Brisbane CBD, to be used for the temporary detention and care of intoxicated persons. Police can detain people who are intoxicated and behaving in a way that poses a risk of harm to themselves or other people for up to eight hours. A qualified medical professional would also be present at the centre to ensure the wellbeing of the person detained. An example of a safe night precinct support service organisation is ‘NightWatch Chaplaincy’.
Why was the one-punch law needed?
Prior to the introduction of section 314A, it was difficult for a court to convict a person of murder or manslaughter if the person caused the victim’s death by a single punch. This was due to the evidential threshold of both offences. To find a person guilty of murder in Queensland, there must be an intent to kill. In the absence of overt evidence that the offender intended to kill the victim, a conviction of murder is difficult to secure. To find a person guilty of manslaughter, the accused must have foreseen that the victim’s death could result from their actions.
In many cases, unlawful striking causing death has been considered as an alternative offence because it does away with the need for intent or foreseeability. That does not mean that the offence is less serious than manslaughter, bearing in mind the mandatory sentencing provision attached to the offence.
In many cases, courts found that an intent to kill cannot be derived from one punch, and neither could death be said to have been foreseeable in these situations. This meant that the charge against offenders in these situations of alcohol-fueled assaults was likely to be downgraded to a simple assault. The creation of the offence on unlawful striking causing death met the community’s expectations regarding violence within our society following assaults where young people lost their lives whilst enjoying a night out in the city.
According to the Queensland Sentencing Information Service statistics, as at November 2020, six cases of unlawful striking causing death have been heard and each case has resulted in imprisonment. The range of terms of imprisonment imposed has been between five and nine years and all offenders have served 80% of the sentence before becoming eligible for parole.
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