The killing of one person by another, whether intentional or otherwise, is dealt with very seriously by the Courts. Of course, where a person (without a lawful excuse) intentionally kills another person, this amounts to common law murder, which is the most serious offence on the criminal calendar. However, where the killing is unintentional, the law is more complex and covers a broader range of scenarios and criminal offences. This article will focus on the various offences arising from unintentional killings, the law surrounding them and the defences available.  

Unintentional Killing: Reckless Murder

The most serious form of unintentional killing is reckless murder. This occurs where the accused caused the victim’s death in the course or furtherance of certain violent crimes. In order to be found guilty of reckless murder, the accused must have known that death or really serious injury would likely result from those acts. Importantly, the accused does not have to intend to kill or injure the person who actually died, nor do they have to have been reckless about killing or injuring that particular person. It is their knowledge of the probability that death or really serious injury would occur that is important. This kind of reckless murder can occur, for example, if the accused is wielding a weapon in a heavily populated area, or discharges a firearm within the general vicinity of where the victim was ultimately shot. Common defences include self defence, defence of another or identification evidence, where the Prosecution are unable to prove exactly who was there and who did what. 

Unintentional Killing: Felony Murder

In Victoria, we have also codified what used to be known as the “felony murder” rule. Section 3A of the Crimes Act 1958 has replaced the “felony murder” rule and applies in circumstances where the accused unintentionally caused the death of another person by an act of violence done in the course or furtherance of a crime the necessary elements of which include violence. This typically occurs, for example, where the accused has committed an aggravated home invasion and kills someone in the process. They may not have ever intended to kill or even seriously injure someone. However, in committing an aggravated home invasion, which necessarily involves an act of violence, they have made themselves liable for a section 3A murder if someone is killed. In both cases of murder, the maximum sentence is life imprisonment. However, an accused person can expect a reduced sentence in circumstances where the murder was unintentional. 

Unintentional Killing: Manslaughter

After unintentional forms of murder, the most serious form of unintentional killing is manslaughter. Generally speaking, an accused will be found guilty of manslaughter if they caused a person’s death, unintentionally, whilst committing an unlawful and dangerous act. The most common example is “one punch” killings, where a person throws a punch (an unlawful and dangerous act) which connects with another person, who falls back, hits their head and dies. There was never any intention by the accused to kill or cause really serious injury, which would otherwise constitute a murder. Rather, the intention was to commit an assault, the consequence of which was a death. The penalties for manslaughter are far less than those for murder. However, where the manslaughter is a “one punch” manslaughter, the Director of Public Prosecutions can use their discretion to file a notice with the Court which will require the Court to sentence the person to a minimum non-parole period of ten years’ imprisonment. 

Unintentional Killing: Culpable Driving and Dangerous Driving

After murder and manslaughter, the next level of unintentional killing occurs in the context of serious driving cases. For example, a person can be convicted of culpable driving in circumstances where they unintentionally killed a person whilst driving a car negligently, recklessly or whilst under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Second to culpable driving is dangerous driving causing death. This occurs in circumstances where the manner of driving was dangerous and caused the death of another. Examples of dangerous driving include driving whilst fatigued (and knowing that you are fatigued) and texting whilst driving. 

Culpable driving and dangerous driving matters can be particularly complex matters because the Police have to be able to prove that there was something particularly dangerous in the manner of the accused’s driving that led to the collision. It is not enough that a collision occurred. There has to be something inherently dangerous in the manner of the driving which caused the collision. Often this involves complex crash scene investigations which need to be scrutinised carefully and, potentially, reviewed by an independent expert. 

Sentences for Unintentional Killing

In relation to all forms of unintentional killing, the almost inevitable outcome (if convicted) is a prison sentence. However, the length of that sentence depends on the offence, the gravity of it, any prior criminal history of the accused and whether there are any exceptional circumstances which the accused may rely on.

How Galbablly Parker Can Help

It is essential that, if you or a loved one are charged with causing the death of another, you seek the very best legal advice as early in the proceedings as possible. Early legal advice can be the difference between the very best and very worst outcome. You should also seek advice in relation to potential compensation orders that may be made against you and what your options are in relation to defending the matter or negotiating an alternative charge. The lawyers at Galbally Parker Lawyers have represented countless individuals charged with unintentional killings and can provide you with the most up to date advice suitable to your particular case.