27.2.2.1.1 - Unlawful and dangerous act - single punch or strike

A mandatory minimum penalty of imprisonment with a non-parole period of 10 years applies where an offender is convicted of unlawful and dangerous act manslaughter if it was constituted by a single punch or strike to the head or neck: Sentencing Act 1991 s9C.

Crimes Act 1958 s4A provides that a single punch or strike to the head or neck which, by itself, causes injury is deemed to be a dangerous act for the purpose of the law relating to unlawful dangerous act manslaughter: ss4A(1)-(2).

The inclusion of this deeming provision was considered necessary because:

Many coward’s punch deaths are already successfully prosecuted under Victoria’s existing manslaughter laws. However, in some cases it is difficult to prove that a single punch or strike was dangerous – in that it involved an appreciable risk of serious injury. The bill explicitly defines a punch or strike to the head or neck that causes injury as a dangerous act for the purpose of unlawful and dangerous act manslaughter: Sentencing Amendment (Coward’s Punch Manslaughter and Other Matters) Bill 2014, Second Reading Speech, Attorney-General, Robert Clark, Hansard (Legislative Assembly) 20 August 2014, p2824.

The single punch or strike may be one of a series of punches or strikes; it need not be an isolated act: s4A(3).

A single punch or strike ‘may be the cause of a person’s death even if the injury from which the person dies is not the injury that the punch or strike itself caused … but another injury resulting from an impact to the person’s head or neck, or to another part of the person’s body, caused by the punch or strike’: s4A(4).

This provision is designed to capture situations where a punch to the head or neck causes the victim to fall and strike their head on the ground: Sentencing Amendment (Coward’s Punch Manslaughter and Other Matters) Bill 2014, Explanatory Memorandum, p3.

Crimes Act 1958 s4A only applies to an offence alleged to have been committed on or after 1 November 2014. If an offence is alleged to have been committed between two dates, one before and one after 1 November 2014, it is alleged to have been committed before that date: Crimes Act 1958 s624.

Prerequisites for imposition of sentence

In sentencing an offender for manslaughter committed by an unlawful and dangerous act in the form of a single punch or strike, the court must impose a non-parole period of at least 10 years if:

A court may be satisfied that the offender intended that the punch or strike be delivered to the victim’s head or neck and that the victim was not expecting to be punched by the offender even if the victim was involved in a confrontation with the offender or anyone else before the punch or strike occurs: s9C(4).

Further, the fact that an offender warns a victim of the punch or strike immediately before delivering it does not mean that the victim expected the offender to punch or strike them: s9C(5).

If those requirements are satisfied, the Court must impose a sentence of imprisonment with a non-parole period of at least 10 years, unless the court finds that a special circumstance exists: s9C(2). See 12.7.4.2.1 – Special reasons for not imposing minimum non-parole period.

The mandatory minimum does not apply, however, to offenders under the age of 18 at the time of the offence. Nor does it apply to a person who:

Please note the Supreme Court and County Court Practice Notes establish pre-hearing filing and service requirements where it is submitted that provisions imposing a minimum non-parole period are applicable. See, for the Prosecution, at 3.3.1.1 – Prosecution – Pre-hearing Filing Requirements and, for the Defence, at 3.3.2.2 – Defence – Pre-hearing Filing Requirements.

 

Last updated: 21 February 2017

See Also

27.2.2.1 - Mandatory minimum sentences for particular forms of manslaughter

27.2.2.1.2 - Manslaughter in circumstances of gross violence

27.2.2.1.3 - Notice requirement