Double Jeopardy

“A person can not be twice punished… for the same act or omission…” 

Double jeopardy is a fundamental and integral part of our legal system. It prevents a person from being tried or convicted more than once for the same act. A recent case in the Supreme Court of Appeals highlights the practical application of this concept.

In the case of R v Dibble, Mr. Dibble was charged and convicted for committing a public nuisance, in which police observed him swinging haymaker style punches as the complainant. As a result of which, the complainant suffered significant facial injuries. Mr. Dibble was sentenced in the Magistrates Court to pay a fine of $400 after he entered a plea of guilty. No conviction was recorded.

More than a year after the judgment was handed down, police charged Mr. Dibble with causing grievous bodily harm. The new charge was the result of the police having received a medical opinion about the injuries sustained.

Mr. Dibble fought these charges on the basis that they related to, and relied upon acts that he had already been punished for.

The Crown however sought to differentiate the acts required for a public nuisance charge from a charge of grievous bodily harm. Essentially arguing that a public nuisance charge did not require the blows to land and as such the landing of blows was not an act or omission that Mr. Dibble was punished for in his original sentence.

The Crown therefore proposed that Mr. Dibble should be able to be charged with grievous bodily harm. As this charge relates and relies upon the landing of the blows, an act that the Crown contends was unpunished in the previous charge.

In the Supreme Court of Appeal, Fraser, Gotterson JJA, and Boddice J indicated that the defining of the punishable act in a conviction relies heavily upon how the original charge was particularised. In this case, the original charge made explicit and clear mention of multiple punches landing on the complainant, the conviction also indicates clearly that the defendant was convicted on the basis of these actions.

The punishable act or omission in question therefore included the punches that landed on the complainant. As such, Mr. Dibble was unable to be charged a second time with the more serious offence of grievous bodily harm.

Bosscher Lawyers has over 100 years of collective experience in the field of criminal law. If you have a criminal law problem, our criminal lawyers are here to help. Call Bosscher Lawyers on 1300 729 316.

By Alison Campbell

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