One Punch Can Kill – Unlawful Striking Causing Death

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The recent death of Cole Miller, an 18-year-old water polo player who was killed following a punch to his head in January 2016, has resulted in two Brisbane men being charged with Unlawful Striking Causing Death under s314A of the Criminal Code (Qld).  The offence was introduced in 2014 under the Safe Night Out Legislation Act 2014 (Qld) following a string of deaths involving single punches. Unlawful striking causing death carries a minimum sentence of 15 years imprisonment.

Facts of the Alleged Offence

In the early hours of 3 January 2016, Daniel Maxwell and Armstrong Renata were ejected from a Fortitude Valley night club for attempting to pick fights with fellow patrons. After the ejection, the two accused men allegedly stalked Miller and his friend, Pace, before one of the men turned to the group and said, “want to see something funny?” Miller and Pace, who were walking to a taxi rank at the time, were challenged to a fight. An initial punch was delivered to Pace. The pair attempted to escape before Miller was delivered a fatal punch to the side of his head by Maxwell.

The two men were charged with Unlawful Striking Causing Death.

Who can be charged with Unlawful Striking Causing Death?

Section 314A of the Criminal Code (Qld) provides that a person is guilty of a crime if they:

  1. Unlawfully strike another person to the head or neck; and
  2. Cause the death of the other person.

What does this mean?

Before the 2014 amendments were introduced, a person who king hit or punched another individual, which then caused the death of that individual, may not have been held liable for murder or manslaughter. This was due to the evidential “gap” in both offences.

In order for an offender to be held liable for murder under s305 of the Criminal Code (Qld), a public prosecutor had to prove that the offender intended to kill that person. Thus, an accused who struck a person to the head or neck could argue that while they intended to hit the victim, they did not intend to kill the victim and therefore were not liable for murder.

Similarly, for an individual to be charged with manslaughter, defined under s303 of Criminal Code (Qld) a public prosecutor had to prove that the accused could have reasonably foreseen that death of the victim could be a likely consequence of a punch. This also prevented numerous convictions.

Under the Unlawful Striking Causing Death provision, however, intent and reasonable foreseeability are not taken into account. Any person who delivers a fatal punch can now be immediately liable for a 15 year sentence.

Commentary

Although debate has arisen over whether the ‘one punch can kill’ laws are excessively harsh, the Queensland Homicide Victim Support Group and legislators behind the Safe Night Out Act 2014 purport that harsher penalties on offenders are required to prevent further deaths, such as the recent loss of Cole Miller.

It is important that young people in particular understand the new penalties that can be imposed under s314A of the Criminal Code Queensland – Unlawful Striking Causing Death. Under the new legislation, failure to monitor alcohol consumption or behaviour could potentially result in a 15 year imprisonment if a death results from a single punch during the night out. This is regardless of whether the offender did not intend to kill the victim.

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