Unlawful Striking Causing Death – “One Punch Can Kill”
In 2018, the sentencing of a Brisbane man to nearly 10 years imprisonment brought renewed attention to Queensland’s unlawful striking causing death – or “one punch can kill” – law. Here’s what everyone should know about this important law and the consequences of breaking it.
The back story
The case in question stems from an incident that occurred on 3 January, 2016. At that time, Armstrong Renata was kicked out of a Fortitude Valley nightclub. Afterwards, Renata and another person tried to initiate a physical altercation with two men, identified as Cole Miller and his friend, Pace, whom they allegedly followed. Then Renata and the other person attacked, first punching Pace and then targeting Miller when the two victims tried to flee. Renata then sent a sucker punch or ‘king hit’ to the side of Miller’s head that caused a fatal brain injury. Renata was 23 when he killed Miller, who was just 18.
Renata pleaded guilty to unlawful striking causing death, which is an illegal act under section 314A of the Criminal Code 1899 (Qld). Although he faced at least 15 years and a maximum penalty of life imprisonment upon conviction, Renata was initially sentenced to only seven years imprisonment based on the court’s assessment of the entire case and applicable sentencing guidelines. The court also determined that he had to serve 80 percent of that time before he could apply for parole.
After legal wrangling that ultimately resulted in an appeal, Renata’s sentence was increased to nine years and six months imprisonment.
Queensland’s unlawful striking causing death law
To secure a conviction for unlawful striking causing death, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant illegally hit another person in the head or neck and killed them by doing so.
However, the prosecutor does not have to prove that the defendant intended to kill the victim (which would be required in a traditional murder case), or that the defendant could have reasonably foreseen that his or her actions would have resulted in the victim’s death (which would be required to secure a conviction for manslaughter).
Unlawful striking causing death is a relatively new law in Queensland, which has only been on the statute books since 2014. It was specifically created in accordance with the Safe Night Out Legislation Act 2014 (Qld) following a string of deaths involving single punches.
Since its introduction, the law has sparked considerable debate. Critics question whether it is too harsh. Proponents, including the Queensland Homicide Victim Support Group and legislators behind the Safe Night Out Legislation Act 2014 argue that harsher penalties on offenders for this type of crime are necessary deterrents.
Proponents also point out the significance of the law as it potentially pertains to young adults. This is because younger people are more likely to be in situations or engage in behaviour where this law may apply. Specifically, they say it is important that young adults remain aware of the consequences of failing to monitor their alcohol consumption, potentially leading to violence where someone is killed by a single punch during a night out clubbing or partying. They also need to understand that it doesn’t matter whether the attacker meant to kill the victim.
The importance of getting sound legal advice
Currently, there is widespread government support for implementation of tough sentencing regimes for offences occurring in safe night precincts like Fortitude Valley and Surfers Paradise. Therefore, it is crucial that you get proper legal advice if you have been charged with an offence involving violence whilst under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Don’t leave anything to chance. Contact our Brisbane Criminal Lawyers today.