Most people recognise that murder, or homicide, is the most serious crime we can commit as human beings. But how does Australian law define murder, and what kind of punishments apply? Criminal law differs from state to state.
Common types of murder charges in Australia
Murder entails the wilful killing of a person, either intentionally or with reckless indifference to life.
In every Australian state, a person found guilty of committing a murder can be sentenced to the maximum penalty of life in prison. In practice, this usually means that the guilty person will serve at least 20 or 25 years in prison without parole, after which they can be considered for release.
In Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory, murder carries with it a mandatory penalty of life imprisonment.
Dangerous driving causing death does not fall into this category, and carries a less severe penalty.
In Queensland, the murder of a police officer carries with it a minimum sentence of 25 years in prison.
Murder by association
Even if you don’t actually kill a person, you can still be charged with associated crimes if you’ve helped the murderer commit his or her crime. In serious cases, murder by association is punishable with a life sentence.
Conspiracy to murder
A foiled plan to kill another person, such as a terrorist attack discovered by police before it could be carried out, comes under a charge of ‘conspiracy to murder’. The maximum sentence for this offence is 14 years’ imprisonment in Queensland and 25 years’ imprisonment in New South Wales.
An unsuccessful attempt to kill another person can result in a maximum sentence of 17 years’ imprisonment.
When following a court case, you may hear of a defendant pleading guilty to manslaughter, rather than murder. This is because the manslaughter charge suggests that the crime was not committed intentionally, but was the result of a reckless or careless act, or diminished responsibility. As a result, the usual sentenced handed out to those found guilty of manslaughter is less severe.
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