Our video and blog post below discusses what the law says about ‘king hit’ attacks.
Alcohol-related violence has been in the media spotlight recently, particularly the growing number of king hit incidents – which some have called “coward punches” – that have led to the death or serious injury of the victim.
There have been a number of examples in the last few years where a single punch has caused death or grievous bodily harm, most recently that of 18-year-old Daniel Christie, who died in hospital on January 11 after being king hit in Sydney’s Kings Cross district on New Year’s Eve.
The recent increase in king hit-style violence has led to calls to reform the NSW criminal justice system and create harsher penalties for those found guilty of single punch attacks.
Currently under NSW law, a single punch can be classed as murder if there was an intention to cause grievous bodily harm when the attack was carried out and the person dies as a result.
In cases where the victim doesn’t die but remains seriously injured, a king hit attack can be considered grievous bodily harm with intent under Section 33 of the Crimes Act.
A conviction for this offence carries a maximum penalty of 25 years’ imprisonment.
As Section 33 charges are strictly indictable, they are dealt with in the district court and carry a standard non-parole period during which the offender can’t be released on parole unless there is a compelling reason to do so.
If there is no evidence of intent to cause grievous bodily harm, offenders can be charged with recklessly causing grievous bodily harm under Section 35 of the Crimes Act.
The maximum penalty for a conviction of this type is seven years’ imprisonment for a wounding and ten years’ for grievous bodily harm, and these charges can be dealt with in the local court.
There is no standard non-parole period for a conviction under Section 35.
With the right legal representation, defendants who are facing charges of grievous bodily harm with intent or murder can potentially defend themselves successfully against these charges, or have them reduced to manslaughter or recklessly causing grievous bodily harm.
This can substantially decrease the penalty and the amount of time they are likely to spend in prison if convicted.
What are the proposed changes?
The family of king hit victim Thomas Kelly has been petitioning for reforms to current NSW law, which would mean that crimes committed while under the influence of alcohol would get tougher sentencing in the future.
Similar laws, known as one-punch laws, have been passed in WA and the Northern Territory.
These laws penalise offences where one person assaults another and the victim dies as a result with harsh prison sentences (10 years in WA and 16 years in the NT).
If these laws came into effect in NSW, it could potentially mean longer prison sentences for those convicted of one-punch attacks while under the influence of alcohol, particularly in cases where the victim later dies.
NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell confirmed late last year that the government is looking at implementing a similar system to WA when it comes to sentencing king hit offenders.
This announcement came after widespread public disappointment at the sentence given to the man who fatally punched Thomas Kelly in King’s Cross in 2012.
Kieran Loveridge was convicted of manslaughter and was sentenced to a minimum of four years in prison.
Originally charged with murder, Loveridge changed his plea from not guilty to guilty in exchange for a reduction in charges.
A number of people have expressed doubt in the media as to the likely effectiveness of creating a one-punch law for NSW, including Law Society spokeswoman Pauline Wright.
Arguments against bringing in one-punch laws for NSW raise doubts as to their overall effectiveness as a deterrent, and questions as to whether or not tougher laws will end up making a difference to the overall length of sentences given out to those convicted of king hit assaults.
Until there is more substantial confirmation as to whether any suggested changes are likely to go ahead, the system will remain as it is now with the outcome of those facing one-punch assault charges depending largely on whether or not intent or recklessness can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt by the prosecution.