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One Punch Law (Qld)

In 2014, the offence of “unlawful striking causing death” was added to the Criminal Code Act 1899. Colloquially the law is known as the “one punch law”. It was created  in response to a spate of deaths across the country resulting from one punch, typically linked to young men in alcohol-fuelled encounters.

Prior to section 314A being introduced, the Code could not adequately provide for prosecution over such deaths. Offences charged were murder and/or manslaughter. There was no intent to kill, which is required to find a person guilty of murder, and the victim’s death was not reasonably foreseeable in the circumstances, which is required to find a person guilty of manslaughter.

The Safe Night Out Amendment Act 2014 amended the Code to include the unlawful striking offence. The Explanatory Notes for the Safe Night Legislation Amendment Bill 2014 state:

“The creation of the new offence of unlawful striking causing death is to principally address the ‘coward-punch’ homicide cases… The new offence will fill a legislative gap and ensure that the community is protected from such cowardly acts of violence. The new offence of unlawful striking causing death precludes an accused from attempting to argue that although the strike was deliberate and wilful, the death of the victim was an ‘accident’.”

The offence

Section 314A Unlawful striking causing death states: “A person who unlawfully strikes another person to the head or neck and causes the death of the other person is guilty of a crime.” The maximum penalty is life imprisonment.

Intent and reasonable foreseeability are not taken into consideration.

To “strike” a person means to “directly apply force to the person by punching or kicking, or by otherwise hitting using any part of the body, with or without the use of a dangerous or offensive weapon or instrument”.

It is not an offence if the punch was thrown in a socially acceptable activity, such as boxing, or if throwing the punch was reasonable in the circumstances, such as in self defence.

If a person is jailed for this offence, they must serve the lesser of 80% of the prison term, or 15 years. This does not apply if:

  • the person has been sentenced to life in prison;
  • the person has an indefinite sentence;
  • the court makes an intensive correction order;
  • the whole or part of the sentence is suspended.

Safe Night Out Amendment Act 2014

The Act also introduced other amendments to the Code to reduce alcohol and drug-related violence. These included:

  • increasing the maximum penalty for assaults on public officers, which involve spitting, biting or the application of bodily fluid or faeces; causing bodily harm; or where the offender is, or pretends to be, armed.
  • deeming a person to be adversely affected by an intoxicating substance at the time of offending when they are charged with certain serious offences of violence in a public place while adversely affected.

It also amended the Penalties and Sentencing Act 1992 to:

  • require the court to impose a community service order for certain offences of drunken violence;
  • ensure voluntary intoxication cannot be used to mitigate a sentence;
  • extend banning orders to allow a court to ban an offender from in and around licensed premises for any period of time.

Other Acts to be amended included the Police Powers and Responsibilities Act 2000, Bail Act 1980, and Drugs Misuse Act 1986.

One punch law cases

In 2017, Ariik Mayot, 20, was sentenced to just under 6 years in jail for the one-punch killing of Lindsay Ede, 54, in a Goodna street in 2015. Mayot was the first person in Queensland charged with unlawful striking causing death. Sentencing was decided on the basis the victim had taunted Mayot with a racist insult and that dark-skinned Mayot, from Sudan, had exhibited behavioural problems as a result of racism and bullying.

In 2017, Armstrong Renata, 23, was sentenced to 7 years in jail for the one-punch killing of Cole Miller, 18, in Fortitude Valley in 2016. Renata punched Mr Miller in the back of the head in an unprovoked attack, causing the teenager to fall and hit his head on the pavement. Mr Miller suffered a fatal brain injury. The Court of Appeal increased Renata’s sentence to 9 years and 6 months in 2018, ruling the original sentence was “manifestly inadequate”, and stating “it is no understatement to say that this is a chilling example of the cowardly, vicious conduct that s 314A was intended to address”. The judge explained the Mayot case “was not comparable because the offending occurred in the afternoon in a suburban street in contrast to the respondent’s alcohol-fuelled violence in the early hours of the morning”, and that Mayot’s case involved provocation.

For advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.

Sally Crosswell

This article was written by Sally Crosswell

Sally Crosswell has a Bachelor of Laws (Hons), a Bachelor of Communication and a Master of International and Community Development. She also completed a Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice at the College of Law. A former journalist, Sally has a keen interest in human rights law.

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