Murder – Trial by Judge Alone in the Supreme Court

Quick Facts

Our client was charged with Murder contrary to the common law. 

The deceased was our client’s estranged sibling. It was alleged that our client rendered his sibling unconscious before transporting the sibling to the family residence. 

Our client’s matter proceeded to Trial by Judge Alone in the Supreme Court, the first of its kind in the State of Victoria. At Trial, our client was acquitted of the charge of Murder and found guilty of the lesser charge of Manslaughter.

Maximum Sentencing

The maximum sentence for Murder is life imprisonment.

The maximum sentence for Manslaughter is 25 years.

Background

On the day in question, an argument arose between our client and the deceased as part of an ongoing dispute regarding the care of their father, of whom our client was the sole carer. In the lead up to the offending our client was providing high-level, full-time care to the father who was suffering from dementia. 

During this argument, our client assaulted the deceased, who sustained injuries to the upper body as a result. The prosecution alleged that the deceased had died as a result of these injuries.

The case turned on the below factors,

–     Whether our client’s actions had caused the death of the victim; and

–    Whether our client intended to kill or cause very serious injury upon the victim. 

Plea Offer

Due to the likelihood that the prosecution would be able to prove beyond reasonable doubt that our client was guilty of Manslaughter at Trial, offers to resolve the matter by way of plea to this charge were made. This plea offer was rejected by the prosecution.

Application for Trial by Judge Alone

Due to the pandemic, it was expected that there would be a significant delay before Trials could proceed before a jury. In response to this, the Victorian Government introduced the ability for Trials to proceed before a Judge Alone under the COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) Act 2020 (Vic).

We made the forensic decision to apply for a Judge Alone Trial due to the complexity of the medical evidence in issue.

Our application was successful, with the Court being satisfied that it was in the interests of justice for our client’s Trial to proceed before a Judge Alone.

Trial 

This matter was the first Trial by Judge Alone to proceed in the Supreme Court of Victoria in the State’s history, as well as the first Trial in the Supreme Court to be conducted entirely online. As such, all parties including witnesses appeared via Cisco WebEx. 

The first point we argued was the relatively minor injuries suffered by the deceased were not reflective of an intention to kill by our client. Our client was highly stressed and sleep deprived due to the full-time care of his elderly father, and we argued that the assault upon the deceased was spontaneous, without planning, and most importantly, committed without an intention to kill or cause very serious injury. 

In addition, as the cause of death could not be determined after the autopsy examination, the issue of causation was argued. We argued that it could not be proven beyond reasonable doubt the injuries sustained from the assault resulted in the victim’s death. We obtained medical evidence that the deceased suffered from asthma, and argued that after the deceased was rendered unconscious, positional asphyxia could have been the cause of death.  

Judgement

As the matter proceeded in the absence of a Jury, at the completion of the Trial, the presiding Justice made a judicial determination as to the verdict. 

Whilst the Trial Justice was satisfied that the assault had caused the victim’s death, it could not be proved beyond reasonable doubt that our client had the intention to kill or cause really serious injury. Accordingly, our client was found not guilty of Murder.

However, the Trial Justice was satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that our client had consciously, voluntarily, and deliberately committed an unlawful and dangerous act which caused the death of the victim. As such, our client was found guilty of Manslaughter.

Plea

After our client was conviction, the matter proceeded to a plea in mitigation. The Justice determined that as a plea offer was made prior to the matter proceeding to Trial, our client received the sentencing benefit of a plea of guilty, despite ultimately being found guilty of Manslaughter.

Furthermore, it was found that our client’s culpability was reduced due to a lack of premeditation, our client’s otherwise good character, and our client’s age meaning the custodial environment is more onerous.

Sentence

Our client received a total effective sentence of 10 years and 3 months imprisonment, with a non-parole period of 6 years and 4 months. Time spent on remand, that being 666 days, was considered already served under this sentence.