Section 302 of the Criminal Code Act 1899 creates the offence of murder and provides that:
“Except as hereinafter set forth, a person who unlawfully kills another under any of the following circumstances, that is to say:
- If the offender intends to cause the death of the person killed or that of some other person or if the offender intends to do to the person killed or to some other person some grievous bodily harm;
- If death is caused by means of an act done in the prosecution of an unlawful purpose, which act is of such a nature as to be likely to endanger human life;
- If the offender intends to do grievous bodily harm to some person for the purpose of facilitating the commission of a crime which is such that the offender may be arrested without warrant, or for the purpose of facilitating the flight of an offender who has committed or attempted to commit any such crime;
- If death is caused by administering any stupefying or overpowering thing for either of the purposes mentioned in paragraph (c);
- If death is caused by wilfully stopping the breath of any person for either such purposes.
is guilty of murder.”
Section 305 of the Act provides that a person convicted of murder must be sentenced to life imprisonment. This mandatory sentence cannot be varied by any law of Queensland. Additionally, a person convicted of more than one offence of murder must serve a minimum of 30 years inside a prison before they can be released.
A person convicted of murdering a police officer while on duty must serve a minimum of 25 years inside a prison before being released.
What Actions Might Constitute Murder?
Any deliberate act, done with the intention of causing death or grievous bodily harm, will constitute the offence of murder where it causes another person’s death.
The offence of murder is commonly committed where one person, for reasons of jealousy, greed or profit, deliberately kills another.
A less common, but no less serious, example of the offence is when a person’s death is incidental to the commission of some other crime, providing the death is reasonably foreseeable consequence of that crime. For example, a person might be guilty of murder if they rob a bank and lock a staff member in an air-tight safe to prevent them raising an alarm, and that person then suffocates and dies.
What the Police Must Prove
In order to convict you of murder it must first be proved that you did, or omitted to do, an act which caused the death of another person. It must then be proved that the act or omission was done in one of the circumstances listed in section 302(1) of the Act, namely:
- that you intended to cause death or grievous bodily harm by your act or omission; or
- that the act or omission was done in the prosecution of an unlawful purpose which carried a reasonable risk of death or grievous bodily harm; or
- that the act or omission was done in the commission of a crime, including where a stupefying or overpowering thing is administered in the commission of that crime.
It is not necessary for the police to prove that your act or omission directly caused the death of a person. You might still be guilty of murder, for example, if a person died while being operated on in hospital if their operation was only necessary because of some injury you caused to them.
Similarly, even if a person’s death could have been prevented with proper treatment you might still be guilty of murder if you caused the bodily injury which ultimately, untreated, kills them.
Possible Defences to Murder
In addition to the “default” defence which applies in cases where the prosecution has not proved the elements of an offence beyond a reasonable doubt, there are also some specific defences which relate to the offence of murder. Some have the effect of removing criminal liability totally, while others serve to reduce the seriousness of the offence from murder to manslaughter.
Self-defence is a complete defence to a charge of murder. This means that if the accused can establish that they had a reasonable apprehension of death or grievous bodily harm being caused to them, or to someone else, and the only way they could avoid it was to do the act which killed the person making the threat, they must be acquitted. This is an extraordinary defence, essentially requiring that there be no reasonable alternative to the application of a lethal force so, understandably, it will apply only in limited circumstances.
Lack Of Intent
Depending on the circumstances of a given case, it might be possible to defeat a murder charge on the basis that you did not intend to cause death or grievous bodily harm, but this is not always true. As an example, if you intended to kill one person, but accidentally killed someone else instead, your intent with respect to the person you actually killed is not important and you would likely be guilty of murder. This defence, where it is successful, will normally result in a reduction of a charge from murder to manslaughter, rather than a removal of criminal liability.
If you kill someone in the heat of passion caused by provocation, before the passions have had time to cool, you might only be guilty of manslaughter and not murder. What constitutes provocation for the purpose of a murder charge is contained in section 304 of the Act which excludes things like mere words, or the breakdown of a domestic relationship, as grounds of provocation.
If you kill someone while being in a state of “abnormality of mind”, you might only be guilty of manslaughter and not murder. Section 304A of the Act creates this defence to murder and requires that the abnormality of mind, whether caused by retarded development, disease or injury, be such that a person is not able to understand what they are doing.
Killing For Preservation In An Abusive Domestic Relationship
If you are involved in a relationship in which you suffer serious domestic violence over a period of time, and if you kill the perpetrator of that domestic violence in the belief that it is necessary in order to prevent them killing you or causing you grievous bodily harm, then you might only be guilty of manslaughter and not murder.
Which Court Will Hear Your Matter?
A charge of murder will be heard and determined in the Supreme Court.
If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.