Needle Spiking and the New South Wales Criminal Law

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Needle Spiking

The have been several mainstream media reports in recent times of people unknowingly being injected with sedatives whilst out at pubs, clubs or festivals, causing them to become hazy and even to fall unconscious – and thereby making them susceptible to predators.

The phenomena, referred to as ‘needle spiking’, has caused considerable panic across the nightlife scene, with many seeing it as a natural escalation of ‘drink spiking‘ tactics used to prey on individuals for financial reasons and even to commit sexual offences.

Here’s a rundown of the facts and criminal laws that can apply.

Is needle spiking actually happening?

Despite widespread media reporting, many experts in forensic toxicology believe that needle spiking is an ‘urban myth‘ or at-least a phenomena that is exceedingly rare.

No purported incidents of needle spiking have been verified toxicologically to date, and some medical experts have expressed scepticism that a person could be injected with a foreign substance (a process which can takes several seconds) without them noticing, even in a busy nightclub environment.

It should be noted that drink spiking involving ‘date rape drugs’ such as GHB or benzodiazepines are another phenomena which is exceedingly rare but, due to excessive media reporting, is often misperceived as widespread. The most common type of ‘drink spiking’ in Australia is not the spiking of drinks with illicit drugs to facilitate sexual assault, but the spiking of drinks with alcohol as a ‘prank’.

Many of the purported symptoms of needle spiking overlap considerably with the effects of binge drinking, including ‘black outs’ (or gaps in memory), vomiting and ill effects that persist days after consumption.

Medical sociologist Dr Robert Bartholomew hypotheses that the recent moral panic around needle spiking may be tied to anxieties following the COVID-19 pandemic, writing:

Social panics occur against a background of anxiety. After two years of pandemic restrictions, British nightclubs had only just returned to normal in the summer of 2021. Young people had endured isolation, disruption to their education, friendships, and love lives. They had been bombarded with frightening news reports about Covid, and as clubs reopened, there was still a fear of the virus and guilt associated with the possibility that they may catch it and pass it on to a vulnerable loved one. The needle, an object of fear for many people, may represent anxiety about vaccinations and fear of contamination.

Offences relating to using an intoxicating substance to injure

Unlike drink or food spiking, needle spiking isn’t covered by any discrete offence in NSW, but there are some related offences.

Under section 41 of the Crimes Act 1900, it is an offence to administer another person, or causes another person to take, any poison, intoxicating substance or other destructive or noxious thing and to do so intending to injure, or is reckless about injuring, the other person. This offence carries a maximum penalty of 5 years imprisonment.

“Intoxicating substance” includes alcohol or a narcotic drug or any other substance that affects a person’s senses or understanding. “Poison” refers to any restricted substance or drug.

Similarly, under section 39 of the Act, it is an offence to it is an offence to:

  • administer another person, or causes another person to take, any poison, intoxicating substance or other destructive or noxious thing; and
  • this substance endangers the life of, or inflicts grievous bodily harm; and
  • this is done whilst intending to  injure, or to cause distress or pain to, the other person.

This offence carries a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment.

‘Grevious bodily harm’ is broadly defined as encompassing:

  • the destruction of the foetus of a pregnant woman, whether or not the woman suffers any other harm; or
  • any permanent or serious disfiguring of the person, or
  • any grievous bodily disease.

Offence of using an intoxicating substance to commit an indictable offence

Another offence exists under section 38 of the Act if a person administers an intoxicating substance to another person, or causes another person to take an intoxicating substance,
with intent to enable himself or herself, or to assist a third person, to commit an indictable offence is guilty of an offence. Indictable offences include sexual assault, sexual touching, kidnapping and other serious offences.

This offence carries a maximum penalty of 25 years imprisonment.

Going to court for a criminal matter?

If you are going to court over a criminal case, call Sydney Criminal Lawyers anytime on 9261 8881 to arrange a free first conference during which one of our experienced defence lawyers will assess the case, advise you of your options and the best way forward, and fight for the optimal outcome.

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Jarryd Bartle

Jarryd Bartle is an Associate Lecturer in Criminology and Justice Studies at RMIT University and a consultant for the Bridge of Hope Innocence Initiative, which investigates claims of wrongful conviction and advocates for systemic reform to protect against miscarriages of justice.

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