Murder in the Third Degree? Does This Apply in Australia
Recently, an American police officer, Mohameed Noor, was found guilty of Murder in the Third Degree for the killing of Australian woman, Ruszczyk Damond.
Noor and his partner, Matthew Harrity were responding to a 911 call at a residence when they claim to have heard a loud bang on the front of their car. Immediately after hearing the sound, a woman with a raised arm appeared at Noor’s partners window. Noor shot at the woman. Later claiming he did this to protect his partner.
A jury found Noor guilty of Third-Degree Murder. In Minnesota, where Noor was convicted, third degree murder is essentially murder without the intent to kill. It can be as a result of indifference, negligence or recklessness. The statute of Minnesota (Section 609.195) gives two types of 3rd degree murder, the first of which is the relevant section for this case. It stipulates that “without the intent to effect the death of any person, causes the death of another by perpetrating an act eminently dangerous to others and envincing a depraved mind, without regard for human life.” The maximum term of imprisonment for that offence is not more than 25 years.
The average sentence in Minnesota for third-degree murder where a person doesn’t have a previous criminal history, is in the range of 10 to 15 years in prison. Inmates typically serve two-thirds of their sentence while incarcerated.
Confusion arises when attempting to compare the American laws surrounding Murder/Manslaughter and the different ‘degrees’ to the relevant Queensland laws.
The Criminal Code Act (QLD) 1899 contains the offences of both Murder and Manslaughter. However, there is no ‘degree’ of either offence.
In summary, s302 defines Murder as the unlawful killing of another under any of the following circumstances: –
- With intent to cause death or Grievous Bodily Harm to any person;
- Occurring in the prosecution of an unlawful purpose which would likely endanger life;
- With intent to do Grievous Bodily Harm in an act of committing a serious offence/fleeing from having committed a serious offence;
- If the death is caused by administering any stupefying or overpowering thing for the purposes mentioned in (c);
- If the death is caused by wilfully stopping the breath of any person.
The punishment for murder is mandatory imprisonment for life. An offender can typically apply for release on parole after serving 20 years.
Manslaughter is defined in section 303 of the Criminal Code (Qld) as, the unlawful killing of another under such circumstances as to not constitute murder.
It is commonly understood that Manslaughter is the appropriate charge for an unlawful killing where the defendant acted without the requisite intent for the offence of Murder.
The maximum penalty for manslaughter is life imprisonment. Inmates typically serve between one-third and one-half of their sentence prior to release on parole.
It seems that should Mr Noor have committed his offence in Queensland, manslaughter would likely have been preferred to a charge of murder. Interestingly, that would have meant him facing a significantly heavier maximum penalty than he is currently facing.