Unlawful striking causing death – “One punch can kill”
Article by Adam Moschella
On 18 December 2018 the Queensland Court of Appeal handed down their decision in the matter of R v Renata; Ex parte Attorney-General for the State of Queensland  QCA 356.
Most would be aware of the facts of this case given the heavy media attention the matter has received. In the early hours of the morning on 3 January 2016, in Fortitude Valley’s Chinatown Mall, the respondent, Mr Renata struck the deceased, Cole Miller to the jaw once with a clenched fist while his back was turned (this type of act is more commonly described as a “king hit”).
Mr Miller suffered a fatal brain injury caused directly by Mr Renata’s blow. At time of the offence Mr Miller was just 18 years old and Mr Renata was 23 years old.
What is Unlawful Striking?
(1) A person who unlawfully strikes another person to the head or neck and causes the death of the other person is guilty of a crime.
Mr Renata plead guilty to the unlawful striking causing death which is an offence found under section 314A of the Criminal Code 1899. The offence was inserted into the Code in 2014 by the Safe Night Out Legislation Amendment Bill 2014 to address coward punch homicide cases.
The offence, sits separate to that of murder or manslaughter which, by virtue of other provisions contained in the Code relating to intent or foreseeability, were hard to secure convictions for. It was intended to fill a legislative gap to protect the community against alcohol fueled violence.
Penalty for Unlawful Striking
Unlawful striking causing death carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. In addition, upon conviction, the Court must make an order the person is not released from prison until they have served the lesser of either:-
- 80% of the person’s sentence for the offence; or
- 15 years imprisonment.
Sentencing for Unlawful Striking
When Mr Renata was sentenced, Supreme Court considered the starting point for Mr Renata’s sentence was 8½ years. Then the Supreme Court took into account Mr Renata’s personal circumstances, the circumstances specific to the offending and the time spent by Mr Renata in maximum security whilst on remand.
The Supreme Court, at first instance, imposed a sentence of seven years imprisonment of which Mr Renata was required for serve 80% before being eligible to make an application for parole.
Appealing the Unlawful Striking Sentence
That sentence was subsequently appealed by the Attorney – General on the basis that the sentence imposed by the Supreme Court was manifestly inadequate, to which the Court of Appeal agreed. The Court of Appeal considered a starting point of 11 to 12 years and then taking into account a number of factors in mitigation, substituted a sentence of 9 years and 6 months imprisonment.
There are a number of factors particular to this case which the Court of Appeal considered warranted the substituted increased penalty. The Court also signaled, when imposing sentences for this type of offending, that the Court must have regard to the increased public consciousness and concern in relation to alcohol fueled violence.
Have you been Charged with a Violent Offence?
Governments of all persuasions have demonstrated a willingness to ensure that strict sentencing regimes are put in place regarding offences which take place in safe night precincts such as Fortitude Valley and Surfers Paradise.
There are significant penalties which potentially flow from the range of offences available to police. It is very important, if you are charged with an offence involving violence whilst under the influence of alcohol or drugs, that you seek legal advice immediately.