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Incident fuels a demand for criminal law reform to toughen sentences for alcohol-related violence

Murder is one of the most serious offenses in criminal law. Shaun McNeil is about to learn just how serious it is. The mixed martial arts fighter has been charged with the murder of 18-year-old Daniel Christie. McNeil, a builder in Sydney, allegedly punched Christie in the head on New Year’s Eve in Kings Cross. Christie sustained a serious brain injury and was on life support for eleven days. Murder charges were filed two days after Christie’s life support was discontinued.

McNeil declined to appear in Central Local Court on Tuesday and did not apply for bail. The court accordingly denied bail. McNeil’s next court appearance has been set for early March. In addition to the murder charge, McNeil is charged with maliciously inflicting grievous bodily harm and assault occasioning actual bodily harm.

According to McNeil, Christie and two others approached him while he was with his girlfriend on New Year’s Eve. McNeil claims Christie wanted to buy drugs. The police allege that McNeil punched Christie once in the head after assaulting four other people, including the others who were with Christie.

The definition of murder in New South Wales requires proof of an intent to kill or:

  • an intent to inflict serious bodily harm, or
  • reckless indifference to human life, or
  • the commission of another serious crime that resulted in the victim’s death.

While killings committed with an intent to cause serious injury rather than death and those committed with reckless indifference to life are generally regarded as less serious forms of murder, that is not always the case. If McNeil is (as he allegedly told witnesses) an experienced martial arts fighter, a court might consider his failure to exercise self-control as an aggravating circumstance, given his lethal abilities.

The case has fueled demands for harsher criminal laws governing the sentencing of individuals convicted of alcohol-related homicides. A petition drive was organized after Thomas Kelly was killed just metres from the Kings Cross location where McNeil allegedly struck Christie. Kelly’s death resulted in the manslaughter conviction of Kieran Loveridge and the imposition of a four year sentence. Kelly’s family is asking for intoxication to be treated as a “mandatory aggravating factor” at sentencing hearings involving violent behavior.

The Director of Public Prosecutions appealed Loveridge’s sentence, contending that it is inadequate punishment for conduct resulting in death. The DPP also asked the court to fashion a guideline judgment on “unprovoked, random and gratuitous offences perpetrated by a single or limited number of blows resulting in death.”

A guideline judgment would provide guidance to sentencing judges in an effort to make criminal law sentencing more uniform. Whether that goal can be accomplished is questionable, however, given the unique circumstances of each crime and each offender and the need to avoid cookie cutter justice.

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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