Supreme Court

  • The Queen v Cook [2015] VSC 406 (19 August 2015) – Supreme Court of Victoria
    Denunciation’ – ‘Deterrence’ – ‘Murder’ – ‘Physical violence and harm’ – ‘Sentencing

    Charges: Murder.

    Hearing: Sentence.

    Facts: The victim was the male offender’s de facto wife. After drinking 15 beers at their house party, the offender started punching and pushing the victim. A friend tried to intervene but was pushed away. He then picked up a steel-framed chair and hit the victim with such force that that one of the legs went through her skin and bone and penetrated her brain.

    Decision and Reasoning: Elliot J sentenced the offender to 21 years and six months imprisonment with a non-parole period of 17 years and six months. In passing this sentence, His Honour made some general observations on domestic violence at [28]-[30]:

    ‘The courts clearly recognise that they must forcefully condemn domestic violence (See, e.g., R v Earl [2008] VSCA 162, [23]). When domestic violence manifests in murderous conduct, that conduct must be denounced in the strongest terms (Felicite v The Queen (2011) 37 VR 329, [20]; Portelli v The Queen [2015] VSCA 159, [30]).

    Moreover, general and specific deterrence have special significance in cases involving domestic violence. In such circumstances, general deterrence is more important as “[t]he victims of such violence are often so enveloped by fear that they are incapable of either escaping the violence or reporting it to the authorities” (Pasinis v The Queen [2014] VSCA 97, [57]).

    Also, specific deterrence is often more important, as it is in this case, because “women who are killed by their husband, boyfriend or de facto partner have frequently been assaulted by them many times previously”’ (Pasinis v The Queen [2014] VSCA 97, [53]).

  • DPP v Williams [2014] VSC 304 (27 June 2014) – Supreme Court of Victoria
    Aggravating factor’ – ‘Defensive homicide’ – ‘Emotional and psychological abuse’ – ‘Evidence’ – ‘Expert evidence - academic’ – ‘History of violence’ – ‘Lack of disclosure of family violence’ – ‘Mitigating factors’ – ‘Physical violence and harm’ – ‘Sentencing

    Charges: Defensive Homicide.

    Hearing: Sentence.

    Facts: The defendant was charged with murdering her de facto partner but was found guilty of defensive homicide. She struck the deceased to the head 16 times with an axe. She buried the deceased’s body in the backyard and lied about his whereabouts to family and friends for more than four years, claiming that he had gone interstate. The defendant gave an account of a violent fight which led to the deceased’s death which included the deceased taunting and goading the defendant. She attested to a long history of family violence by the deceased.

    Issue/s: The appropriate sentence to be imposed.

    Decision and Reasoning: The defendant was sentenced to 8 years’ imprisonment, with a non-parole period of 5 years. In finding the defendant guilty of defensive homicide, the jury had to be satisfied that the killing took place in the context of a serious history of family violence. Hollingworth J noted at [20] that, while there was no evidence that the defendant or her children had ever complained about family violence, this is not uncommon.

    The deceased was the dominant person in the relationship. He had a long history of violence and drank heavily. His behaviour towards the defendant ‘over many years, was abusive, belittling and controlling, and involved both physical and psychological abuse’ ([26]). Her Honour noted, ‘The final act or acts of the deceased may well be relatively minor, if looked at in isolation; but what happens in such cases is that the victim of family violence finally reaches a point of explosive violence, in response to yet another episode of being attacked. In such a case, it is not uncommon for the accused to inflict violence that is completely disproportionate to the immediate harm or threatened harm from the deceased’ ([32]).

    The Court heard (largely unchallenged) expert evidence from Professor Patricia Easteal regarding the complex dynamics of family violence, the reasons why women often do not leave violent partners and the use of weapons by female victims of family violence against male partners ([33]-[34]). Given this evidence, Her Honour noted that while ordinarily, striking 16 blows with an axe in response to a minor physical and verbal attack by an unarmed attacker would seem disproportionate, this may not be the correct conclusion in family violence cases involving a female offender ([36]). However, aggravating factors included the defendant’s deceit and a lack of remorse. Her offending had a large impact on the deceased’s family.
  • DPP v Bracken [2014] VSC 94 (12 February 2014) – Supreme Court of Victoria
    Emotional and psychological abuse’ – ‘Evidence’ – ‘Expert evidence’ – ‘Murder’ – ‘Physical violence and harm’ – ‘Self-defence’ – ‘Social framework evidence

    Charges: Murder.

    Proceeding: Pre-trial hearing.

    Facts: The defendant was on trial for the murder of his de facto partner. He argued that he shot his de facto partner in self-defence. He alleged that his partner perpetrated psychological and physical violence against him over the course of the relationship. He successfully argued that the killing was in self-defence and was thus acquitted.

    Issue/s: One of the issues concerned whether evidence of family violence or ‘social framework’ evidence within the meaning of the then s 9AH of the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) was admissible.

    Decision and reasoning: The evidence was admitted. Maxwell P held that family violence was alleged as required by the section. As such, evidence such as ‘the cumulative effect, including psychological effect, on the person or a family member of (family) violence’ was relevant in determining whether self-defence was made out. Significantly, his Honour held that, ‘There will be no basis for an objection on grounds of relevance…’, though there could be other available grounds of objection (see at [16]).
  • DPP v Neve [2013] VSC 488 (13 September 2013) – Supreme Court of Victoria
    Criminal damage’ – ‘Denunciation’ – ‘Deterrence’ – ‘Intentionally causing injury’ – ‘Make threat to kill’ – ‘Physical violence and harm’ – ‘Reckless conduct endangering life’ – ‘Sentencing

    Charge/s: Criminal damage, make threat to kill x 2, reckless conduct endangering life, intentionally causing injury.

    Hearing: Sentence hearing.

    Facts: The offender and the complainant were married. After an argument, the offender fatally shot the complainant’s dog. He then reloaded the rifle and began chasing the complainant as she ran towards the road yelling, ‘I’m going to fucking kill you…You’re fucked’. The complainant stopped running and tried to negotiate with the offender. She managed to grab hold of the gun and forced the applicant to fire both of the shots from the rifle. The offender then pushed her over and started punching her repeatedly in the head and chest, trying to reach other cartridges he had in his pocket. The complainant managed to get up and flag the attention of a passerby.

    Decision and Reasoning: The offender was sentenced to a total effective sentence of four years imprisonment, with a non-parole period of two and a half years. In passing sentence, Bell J noted at [67]:

    ‘Denunciation of your crimes and general deterrence are powerful sentencing considerations in your case, leading to an immediate sentence of imprisonment. Ms Fuller was your wife. You are guilty of committing appalling domestic violence towards her. Many of your actions were not only violent but calculated to belittle and demean her and place her in abject fear. The double barrel shotgun was a common feature of all five charges and it was loaded when the first four offences were committed. This criminal conduct deserves the strongest condemnation of the court. Others must be made to appreciate the consequences of committing crimes of this nature’.

  • DPP v Huynh [2010] VSC 37 (19 February 2010) – Supreme Court of Victoria
    Denunciation’ – ‘Deterrence’ – ‘Forcible confinement’ – ‘Physical violence and harm’ – ‘Sentencing’ – ‘Violation of trust between husband and wife

    Charge/s: Intentionally causing serious injury.

    Hearing: Sentence hearing.

    Facts: The offender and the victim, his wife, came to Australia from Vietnam on tourist visas. After the offender became suspicious the victim was seeing another man, he stabbed the victim multiple times in the chest and abdomen.

    Decision and Reasoning: In sentencing the offender, Curtain J took into account the offender’s plea of guilty, his lack of prior criminal history, the fact that the offender would be separated from his children for a number of years, and that the offender was remorseful and distressed by his conduct. Her Honour also accepted that the offender’s prospects for rehabilitation were favourable. However, in opposition to these factors, Curtain J held at [42]-[43]:

    ‘Against these matters stand the nature and gravity of the offence here committed. This is a serious example of a serious offence. It involves the infliction of serious violence upon your wife which is a gross breach of the trust which reposes between husband and wife. I take into account also the need to pass a sentence which will act in denunciation of your conduct and serve to punish you and also give due weight to special and general deterrence.

    Although such considerations are to be sensibly moderated, nonetheless, the sentence imposed must signal to the community that acts of violence, including domestic violence, are not tolerated and warrant condign punishment’.

    In the circumstances, a sentence of seven years imprisonment with a non-parole period of five years was appropriate.

  • R v Gojanovic [2005] VSC 97 (27 January 2005) – Supreme Court of Victoria
    Murder’ – ‘Physical violence and harm’ – ‘Relationship killings’ – ‘Sentencing

    Charge/s: Murder.

    Hearing: Sentence hearing.

    Facts: After being in an ‘on and off relationship’ for some years, the male offender and the female victim separated. One evening, the offender entered the victim’s home and battered her repeatedly on the head with a rubber headed mallet. He then took a dressing gown cord and strangled her to death.

    Decision and Reasoning: Osborn J noted that while the killing was not premeditated and it occurred in a state of high emotion arising out of the disintegration of the offender’s relationship with the victim, there were nevertheless five seriously aggravating circumstances associated with this crime. First, the killing was brutal, protracted and vicious. Second, the killing was selfishly callous. The offender knew he was not only taking the life of another individual but also taking away the mother of four innocent children. Third, the killing took place in what should have been the safety of the deceased’s own home. Four, a substantial penalty was warranted in light of the need for general deterrence. As per His Honour at [31]:

    ‘The Court and the community which it represents cannot tolerate resort to violence, let alone homicidal violence, in circumstances of this kind. The Court must send a clear message to estranged parents that they cannot act as you did and expect to receive other than a penalty which affirms the sanctity of individual human life and condemns in the strongest terms the deliberate taking of another life even in circumstances of strong emotion’.

    Finally, the offender displayed a total lack of remorse for his conduct. The offender was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment, with a non-parole period of 15 years.

    See also R v Gojanovic (No 2) [2007] VSCA 153 (14 August 2007).

  • R v Kibble [2002] VSC 52 (1 March 2002) – Supreme Court of Victoria
    Intentionally cause serious injury’ – ‘Physical violence and harm’ – ‘Relevance of prior relationship’ – ‘Right to leave a relationship’ – ‘Sentencing

    Charge/s: Intentionally cause serious injury.

    Hearing: Sentence hearing.

    Facts: The female victim ended her relationship with the male offender and gave him money to fly back to London, where he was from. Upon returning to England, the offender felt humiliated and angry and decided to return to Australia to punish the victim. He purchased a rubber mallet to break into the victim’s house and a roll of duct tape. When the victim arrived home, the offender started stabbing her with a knife. She managed to fight him off and called the police.

    Decision and Reasoning: This offence was serious. As per Gillard J at [57]:

    ‘A person in a relationship with another has every right to terminate the relationship and walk away without fear of reprisal. Too often, upon the termination of a relationship, the physically stronger person pursues a course of conduct of harassment and violence towards the other person. That is what has happened here. Your conduct was serious and has had a long-lasting, emotional effect upon the victim. The Legislature views any offence under s16 as serious. The circumstances surrounding the commission of this offence supports that conclusion and you are guilty of a high level of criminality’.

    There were a number of factors that aggravated the offending namely that the conduct was premeditated, the offender waited for the victim in her home, his conduct caused the victim terror and fear, and the conduct had a long-lasting emotional effect on the victim. His Honour was satisfied that specific deterrence was not warranted on the facts but that general deterrence was important i.e. the sentence had to send a message to those who are like-minded to use their superior physical strength to punish a partner in a relationship after it has terminated.

    His Honour also took into account a number of mitigating factors namely, the offender frankly admitted his involved, he pleaded guilty at the first opportunity, there was no criminal history, the physical injuries were at the lower end of the scale, the sentence would be onerous because the offender was English, the offence was out of character, it was unlikely he would reoffend, and his prospects for rehabilitation were good. The offender was sentenced to six years imprisonment with a non-parole period of four years.

  • DPP v Williamson [2000] VSC 115 (31 March 2000) – Supreme Court of Victoria
    Murder’ – ‘Parents who kill children’ – ‘Physical violence and harm’ – ‘Relationship killings’ – ‘Sentencing

    Charge/s: Murder.

    Hearing: Sentence hearing.

    Facts: The offender and a young woman, Ms Park, had been in a relationship and had a child together, the victim. This relationship was characterised by the offender’s jealousy and possessiveness towards Ms Park and the victim. Eight months after the victim was born, Ms Park left the relationship. The offender resented his obligation to financially support the child and began to deeply resent Ms Park. Four months before the victim’s death, the offender began telling people he was going to kill himself and his son, to take him away from Ms Park. One night, the offender took the child to a hotel and smothered him. He then wrote a letter to Ms Park telling her he had killed the victim.

    Decision and Reasoning: In sentencing, Cummins J took into account, as mitigating factors, the offender’s poor family situation, the burdensome quality of imprisonment to the offender, his age, his lack of prior convictions and the rehabilitative courses he undertook while in custody. However, His Honour stated at [25]:

    ‘Of all the rights of the child, the most fundamental right of all is the right to life. It is necessary that parents and others in charge of children unmistakably understand that child abuse will be met by the full force of the law. The intentional killing of a child by a person without psychiatric illness or other significantly mitigating factor will ordinarily be met with life imprisonment of the offender’.

    Cummins J also noted the significant importance of condemnation, punishment, general deterrence and specific deterrence. The offender was sentenced to life imprisonment with a non-parole period of 24 years.