New South Wales

Supreme Court

  • R v Adams (No 6) [2016] NSWSC 1565 (4 November 2016) – Supreme Court of New South Wales
    Evidence’ – ‘Judge-alone trial’ – ‘Murder’ – ‘Physical violence and harm’ – ‘Sexual and reproductive abuse’ – ‘Tendency

    Charge/s: Murder.

    Hearing: Judge-alone trial judgment.

    Facts: On 27 September 2016, the accused pleaded not guilty to the murder of Mary Wallace (the deceased) on 24 September 1983. A significant part of the Crown’s circumstantial case was that the accused possessed a tendency at the time of the alleged murder to choke or strangle women in order to force them to submit to having penile/vaginal sexual intercourse with him. The Crown led evidence of three women who had alleged that they had been sexually assaulted by the accused.

    Issue/s: Whether the accused was guilty of the charge of murder.

    Decision and Reasoning: In reaching this decision, His Honour first listed the legal matters he took into account in reaching the verdict (see [320]-[359]). Most relevantly, Justice Button noted that it would have to be proven beyond reasonable doubt that at the time of offence the accused possessed a tendency to strangle women to cause them to submit to intercourse with him. This was for at least two reasons: (1) there was authority that tendency must be proven to the criminal standard in order to be taken into account (see the discussion of HML v The Queen in DJV v R at [30], and R v Matonwal & Amood at [92]). (2) In the circumstances of this case, it was agreed between parties that the alleged tendency was an indispensible intermediate fact with regard to the guilt of the accused (Shepherd v The Queen)(see [337]-[339]).

    Justice Button then stepped through his sequential reasoning for reaching the verdict of guilty (see [360]-[493]). One of the steps in this reasoning was that His Honour found that the accused possessed a tendency to rape women and to strangle them ancillary to that crime. This was after considering the evidence of three women (see [419]-[420]).

    In light of the following evidence, at [491]-[492], Justice Button held that the accused’s guilt had been proven beyond reasonable doubt:

    ‘the proven tendency of the accused to rape and strangle women; the marked similarities between his interaction with the deceased and his interactions with women whom, I am satisfied, he had raped and strangled; the fact that the deceased has never been seen again after she was in the company of the accused; the fact that, within 48 hours of his interaction with the deceased, the accused undertook an activity relating to his boot that featured the use of a hose; the fact that hairs (which shared a reasonably rare profile with those of the deceased) were seized from the boot of his vehicle, and not disputed at trial to be from the deceased; and the fact that, on any analysis, the accused had ample time to dispose of the body’.

    Justice Button concluded: ‘the accused treated the deceased very much as an object, just as he had treated three other young women’.
  • R v Silva [2015] NSWSC 148 (6 March 2015) – Supreme Court of New South Wales
    Battered woman syndrome’ – ‘Expert evidence - psychiatrist’ – ‘Manslaughter by excessive self-defence’ – ‘Physical violence and harm’ – ‘Post-traumatic stress disorder’ – ‘Sentence

    Charge/s: Manslaughter by excessive self-defence.

    Hearing: Sentencing.

    Facts: The offender stabbed and killed her partner, James Polkinghorne. The relationship had been characterised by escalating physical and verbal abuse from the deceased towards the offender. On the 13 May 2012, the deceased made increasingly threatening and abusive telephone calls and messages to the offender. That night, he went to the home of the offender’s parents, where the offender was present. He was highly aggressive and high on methylamphetamine. The facts of what followed were confused and confusing (see [29]-[36]). In summary, the deceased threatened to kill the offender, he assaulted the offender, and the offender’s brother and father intervened. They began fighting with the deceased. The offender retrieved a knife from inside and, while the offender was on top of her brother, stabbed and killed the deceased. The offender was found not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter.

    Decision and Reasoning: A sentence of 18 months imprisonment, wholly suspended was imposed. Hoeben CJ first made a number of factual findings. At [38] His Honour found that:

    ‘the offender stabbed the deceased with an intention to inflict grievous bodily harm because she believed her act was necessary to defend not only herself but her brother and father. However, in accordance with the jury’s verdict, the offender’s conduct was not a reasonable response in the circumstances as she perceived them, thereby rendering her guilty of the crime of manslaughter by way of excessive self-defence’.

    His Honour also had regard, with some qualifications, to the evidence of Associate Professor Quadrio, a consultant psychiatrist. In her report, Professor Quadrio concluded that during her relationship with the deceased, the offender developed chronic and complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with particular features which were described as ‘Battered Woman Syndrome’. She also concluded that the offender continued to suffer from PTSD. Hoeben CJ found at [40]:

    ‘In the absence of any psychiatric opinion to the contrary, I would normally accept such a diagnosis. In this case I am not prepared to do so. This is because the diagnosis is based upon significant pieces of history from the offender which are different to the evidence at trial and to what the offender said in her ERISP. I am prepared to accept that the offender currently suffers from PTSD. The events of the night of 13 May 2012 would of themselves be sufficient to bring about such a condition and there is no reason to doubt the existence of the symptoms which the offender described following the deceased’s death. What I am not prepared to accept is that the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was due to the offender’s relationship with the deceased and was in existence before the deceased’s death’.

    However, His Honour did accept that the offender stabbed the deceased when she was in a highly emotional and hysterical state (see [41]-[43]).

    In reaching an appropriate sentence, Hoeben CJ took into account a number of considerations. These included that specific deterrence were not relevant in light of the offender’s rehabilitation and the unlikelihood of re-offending (see [58]). General deterrence was not accorded substantial weight in light of exceptional factual circumstances (the deceased had made escalating threats of violence approaching the offender’s home and the offender’s state of mind was affected by being already brutally assaulted and witnessing the struggle between her family members and the deceased) (see [59]). The objective seriousness was at the lower end of the range as was the offender’s culpability (see [60]-[61]).

    As against these matters, Hoeben CJ had regard to the sanctity of human life, the need to denounce the conduct of the offender and hold her accountable for her actions (see [62]).

    The offender successfully appealed against her conviction to the Court of Appeal. See Silva v The Queen [2016] NSWCCA 284 (7 December 2016).
  • DPP (NSW) v Lucas [2014] NSWSC 1441 (20 October 2014) – Supreme Court of New South Wales
    Damaging property’ – ‘Evidence’ – ‘Intentionally or recklessly damaging property’ – ‘Intimidation’ – ‘Relationship/context evidence

    Charge/s: Intentionally or recklessly damaging property, intimidation.

    Appeal Type: Crown appeal against the dismissal of the charges.

    Facts: The male defendant had been in a domestic relationship with the female complainant that had ended some years prior to the offence. Since that time, the complainant had taken steps to conceal where she was living with her children from the defendant. He found where they were living and was permitted to have contact and access to children. One evening, the defendant turned up to the complainant’s home uninvited and unannounced. She locked herself and the children inside the house while the defendant was yelling and screaming and making threats, including threatening to deflate the tyres on her car. It was alleged that he then deflated a tyre on her car. These charges were dismissed by a magistrate.

    Issue/s: One of the grounds of appeal was that the magistrate erred in excluding evidence of a ‘pattern of violence’, such evidence being relevant to the intimidation charge under s 7(2) of the Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Act.

    Decision and Reasoning: This ground of appeal was dismissed but the appeal was upheld on other grounds (failure to give reasons and error as to what constituted damage). Examination of the transcript indicated that the magistrate’s approach was that the prosecutor should lead evidence of the actual incident itself before leading any other evidence under s 7(2), if it was then considered necessary (See [24]-[30]).

  • R v Gittany (No 5) [2014] NSWSC 49 (11 February 2014) – New South Wales Supreme Court
    Character evidence’ – ‘Following, harassing, monitoring’ – ‘Moral culpability’ – ‘Murder’ – ‘Objective seriousness’ – ‘Physical violence and harm’ – ‘Sentencing

    Charge/s: Murder.

    Hearing: Sentencing hearing.

    Facts: The offender was found guilty for the murder of his female de facto partner after a judge only trial. While the relationship was, at times, loving and happy it was also tumultuous as the offender was a jealous and possessive partner. The offender scrutinised the victim’s conduct openly and covertly, keeping track of her movements through surveillance cameras and secretly monitoring her mobile phone. On 30 July 2011, the victim had decided she was leaving the offender and attempted to leave their apartment. She was physically dragged back into the apartment by the offender and sixty-nine seconds later she fell to her death from the balcony. McCallum J was satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that, in a state of rage, the offender carried the unconscious complainant to the balcony and ‘unloaded’ her over the edge.

    Decision and Reasoning: A sentence of 26 years imprisonment with a non-parole period of 18 years was appropriate in the circumstances. McCallum J took into account of a number of considerations in imposing this sentence. Her Honour assessed the objective seriousness of the offence. McCallum J was satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the act of unloading the complainant’s body over the balcony was done with intent to kill and that, although unconscious, the complainant was undoubtedly in a state of complete terror in the last moments before her death (See [16]-[18]).

    A further relevant issue in assessing objective seriousness was whether the killing was planned or premeditated. The Crown tried to adduce evidence establishing that the offender had long had in mind the possibility of committing such an act, and making it look like suicide, in the event of her leaving him. Although witness testimony substantiating this assertion was excluded for its prejudicial content, other evidence was relevant to assessing the offender’s state of mind. During the relationship, the offender engaged in an extraordinary degree of manipulative behaviour and while he was not to be punished for this conduct nor did this conduct aggravate the offence, it did inform the state of mind in which he committed the offence. McCallum J was not satisfied that the offence was planned or premeditated in the traditional sense; however, she was satisfied that the offender must have anticipated the prospect that he would fly into a rage if ever she were to leave him (See [19]-[39]). Her Honour concluded:

    ‘In my view, that history informs the degree of moral culpability of the offence. The arrogance and sense of entitlement with which Mr Gittany sought to control Lisa Harnum throughout their relationship deny the characterisation of his state of mind in killing her as one of complete and unexpected spontaneity. By an attritional process, he allowed possessiveness and insecurity to overwhelm the most basic respect for her right to live her life as she chose. Although I accept that the intention to kill was formed suddenly and in a state of rage, it was facilitated by a sense of ownership and a lack of any true respect for the autonomy of the woman he claimed to love’ at [40].

    In sum, the objective seriousness of the offence committed was not above the middle of the notional range, having regard to the fact that the murder was not premeditated or planned. However, the offence was of sufficient seriousness that the standard non-parole period of twenty years was to be regarded as a strong guide in this case (See [43]).

    McCallum J also noted the offender’s personal circumstances, including a troubling prior conviction for malicious wounding (See [44]-[59]) and noted that the complainant was vulnerable. She took into account good character references provided (noting though the contradiction posed by the way he treated the complainant) but was not persuaded that any prospect of rehabilitation existed in this case (See [65]-[74]).

    This case was unsuccessfully appealed to the New South Wales Court of Appeal. See Gittany v R [2016] NSWCCA 182 (19 August 2016).

  • R v Yeoman [2003] NSWSC 194 (21 March 2003) – New South Wales Supreme Court
    Battered woman syndrome’ – ‘Difficulty leaving an abusive relationship’ – ‘Expert evidence - psychosocial report - specific experience in drug and alcohol related domestic violence issues’ – ‘Manslaughter’ – ‘People affected by substance misuse’ – ‘Physical violence and harm’ – ‘Where the victim is an offender’ – ‘Women

    Charge/s: Manslaughter.

    Hearing: Sentencing.

    Facts: The female offender had lived with her male de facto partner, the deceased, for 25 years (since she was 17 years old). The deceased had been violent towards the offender throughout their relationship, including hitting her in the eye with a baseball bat, but she did not have the means to leave the relationship. The deceased would often taunt the offender and dare her to stab him. They both suffered from alcoholism. One evening, the offender was heavily intoxicated and stabbed the deceased in the chest, killing him. At the time, she did not intend to kill him nor did she realise he was dead and she went to bed. The next morning she called the police and made full admissions. The offender’s recollection of events was imperfect because of her intoxication.

    Decision and Reasoning: Buddin J had extensive regard to a psychological report prepared by Ms Danielle Castles, who had 17 years’ experience working in the social welfare field, with particular expertise about drug and alcohol issues and domestic violence (See [32]-[35]). Ms Castles commenced her report by explaining the nature of domestic violence and stated at [32] that:

    ‘domestic violence is the term used to describe the violence and abuse perpetrated upon a partner in a marriage or marriage like relationship. It is essentially the misuse of power and the exercise of control by one person, usually the man, over another, usually the woman. “Women experiencing domestic violence are often subjected to physical, sexual, emotional/psychological, social and economic abuse. Abuse may be overt (physical violence) or it might be deceptively subtle (emotional abuse). It is the interplay between making the woman fearful and reducing her self-esteem which results in the abuse having significant and prolonged effects on the woman.”

    The effects of domestic violence are such that women in violent relationships are convinced they are hopeless, that they need to be dependent upon the abuser and could not possibly survive without him. The most significant aspect of prolonged abuse is the gradual breaking down of a woman’s autonomy’.

    Ms Castles then set out the ways in which domestic violence impacted upon the offender here (See [33]-[34]).

    Buddin J ultimately found that the offender’s criminality was at the lower end of the scale of culpability of an offence of this kind i.e. non-intentional homicide in circumstances of tragic misadventure. Her intention was no more and no less than to engage in a desperate and objectively dangerous gesture, without intending any real harm or worse to the deceased. This, in conjunction with the very powerful subjective case advanced on behalf of the offender, meant that an exceptional sentence of a good behaviour bond for four years was appropriate, notwithstanding the fact that a life was taken (See [50]). The subjective factors that mitigated sentence included that ‘the offence took place against the background of continuing domestic violence over a prolonged period of time, the impact upon her of which cannot, for the reasons advanced by Ms Castles and others, be underestimated’ (See [45]). Buddin J also derived assistance from cases involving ‘battered spouse or partner syndrome’ (See [48]).