Renowned AC/DC drummer Phil Rudd made headlines for all the wrong reasons this week, after it was alleged that he hired a hitman to kill two people.
He was charged with attempting to procure a murder, threatening to kill and a number of drug possession charges.
While the attempting to procure a murder charge has now been withdrawn, his lawyer says that the musician will be defending the threatening to kill charge.
Under New Zealand law, a person may be charged with “threatening to kill” if it is alleged that they threatened to kill or inflict grievous bodily harm upon another person, or sent a letter containing a death threat or a threat to cause grievous bodily harm.
The maximum penalty for that offence is 7 years’ imprisonment.
While Rudd was charged under New Zealand law, similar provisions relating to attempted murder, conspiracy to murder and death threats exist in New South Wales.
Under section 26 of the Crimes Act, a person may be charged with conspiracy to murder if he or she is alleged to have solicited, encouraged, proposed or persuaded someone to kill another person.
This includes “contract killings” such as those previously alleged in Rudd’s case, which involve making arrangements with another person, commonly known as a “hitman,” to kill someone.
Those who agree to kill other people be charged with conspiracy to murder.
The maximum penalty for that offence in NSW is 25 years’ imprisonment.
Conspiracy to murder also attracted what’s known as a ‘standard non-parole period’ (SNPP) of 10 years imprisonment.
A SNPP is a reference point of guidepost for the sentencing judge when he or she is deciding how long a person should spend in prison, before becoming eligible for release on parole.
However, having a SNPP does not necessarily mean that a person will automatically go to prison for 10 years they are guilty.
Rather, the court may choose to impose more or less than the standard non-parole period if there are good reasons for setting a non-parole period that is shorter or longer than the standard period.
Or the court may even choose to impose a different kind of penalty altogether – including a ‘suspended prison sentence’ if the appropriate term of imprisonment is 2 years or less.
It’s also important to bear in mind that “conspiracy to murder” charges are notoriously difficult to prove – indeed, Rudd’s charge was withdrawn due to insufficient evidence.
Criminal charges are commonly withdrawn by the prosecution where there are problems with the evidence – in fact, our team of experienced criminal defence lawyers often succeeds in having serious charges withdrawn at an early stage by carefully examining all of the evidence and identifying issues with the prosecution case.
Another murder-related charge is “intent to murder”, which is also known as “attempted murder.”
A person may be charged with attempted murder if it is alleged that they have done any of the following things, with the intention of killing another person:
- Poisoning another person;
- Wounding or causing grievous bodily harm to another person;
- Setting fire to a building or object;
- Damaging or destroying a building with explosive substances;
- Placing objects or persons across railways;
- Removing things from railways;
- Shooting at another person;
- Attempting to drown, suffocate and strangle another person;
- Any other acts done with the intention of killing another person.
The maximum penalty for “attempted murder” is also 25 years’ in prison.
Again, a standard non-parole period of 10 years’ imprisonment applies.
Under the Commonwealth Criminal Code, it is also an offence to send or deliver letters which contain death threats.
A similar offence is using a carriage service, such as a mobile phone network, to make death threats.
The maximum penalty for making death threats under the Commonwealth Criminal Code is 10 years’ imprisonment.
The heavy maximum penalties for these offences are intended to reflect how serious they are, and to send a strong message to the community that attempting to kill or conspiring to kill another person will be severely punished.
However, it’s important to remember that the maximum penalty will only be imposed in the most serious cases.
When deciding what penalty to impose in a criminal case, the court will look at a wide range of factors, such as:
- the level of planning and skill involved
- the level of involvement in the offence
- the seriousness of any injuries suffered by the other person
- the likelihood of death
- whether there was a plea of guilty or not, and
- the personal features of the person who is being sentenced – including their criminal record (or lack thereof), their general character, their personal characteristics, any remorse shown, any mental condition/s suffered etc.
The facts and circumstances of Rudd’s charges are not yet clear – but luckily for him, the maximum penalties for “threatening to kill” in New Zealand are much lower than those for comparable offences in Australia.