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The accused’s delusions prevented him from having a rational understanding that his conduct was wrongful

A District Court judge was asked to decide whether Ilie Istudor was guilty of attempted murder. In R v Ilie Istudor [2016] NSWDC 1, the judge decided that Istudor was not guilty by reason of mental illness.

The offence

Ilie Istudor, age 87, came to Australia as a refugee from Romania in 1951. In recent years, he became obsessed with a strata manager and a neighbour who, he believed, were conspiring to poison him.

Istrudor shot the strata manager with a rifle. The bullet passed through the manager’s neck but caused no permanent injury. The strata manager leapt onto Istrudor, who lost consciousness after falling.

Istrudor was charged with shooting with intent to murder (attempted murder), in violation of section 29, Crimes Act 1900 (NSW).

Fitness for trial

Questions were raised about Istrudor’s fitness to stand trial. No person can be tried on a criminal charge unless that person has the mental fitness to understand the charges and to assist in his or her defence.

Initially, the Mental Health Review Tribunal determined that Istrudor was unfit for trial. After about 6 months in custody, the Tribunal decided that Istrudor had regained his fitness for trial. After considering evidence concerning Istrudor’s mental health, the judge disagreed. Instead of commencing a trial or returning Istrudor to the Tribunal, the judge decided to hold a special hearing pursuant to section 30 of the Mental Health (Forensic Provisions) Act.

Special hearing

At a special hearing, the accused is assumed to have entered a not guilty plea. After taking evidence, the judge decides whether the evidence establishes that the accused committed the offence, whether the accused is not guilty, or whether the accused is not guilty by reason of mental disease.

Defence of mental illness 

Mental illness excuses a crime if the accused was not legally responsible for his actions as a result of his mental state. The traditional test, followed in NSW, requires the defence to establish that the accused was “labouring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing; or, if he did know it, that he did not know what he was doing was wrong.”

In most cases, the question is whether the accused knew that what he was doing was wrong. If the accused did not appreciate or understand that his actions were wrong, the defence is established. A disordered condition of the mind may prevent someone from exercising the kind of reasoning that allows most people to separate right from wrong.

Court’s decision

The judge was persuaded that Istrudor shot the strata manager with the intent to kill him. The judge credited the testimony of a forensic psychiatrist that Istrudor was suffering from paranoid psychosis when he did so. His delusion that he was being poisoned caused him to believe he was morally justified in shooting his victim.

The judge concluded that Istrudor’s reasoning was defective and that he was incapable of appreciating the wrongfulness of his conduct. The court decided that Istrudor’s mental illness made him not guilty of the charged offence.

As a consequence of the judge’s decision, Istrudor will be detained until the Mental Health Review Tribunal determines that he can be safely released, subject to the requirements of NSW law.

Disclaimer : This article is just a summary of the subject matter being discussed and should not be regarded as a comprehensive legal advice for you to defend yourself alone. If you are charged with criminal offences, it is recommended that you seek legal assistance from criminal lawyers.

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