Criminal Law Case Study

Criminal Law Case Study

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In this case the accused, Mr Cheatham stabbed his wife, three old year
old daughter and three month old daughter numerous times. His wife and
older daughter died from their wounds but skilled surgery managed to
save the life of his three-month-old daughter.

The prosecution would want to try the accused for two counts of murder
(of his wife and older child) and one count of attempted murder (the
younger child). However, the accused may be able to argue the defence
of insanity, or in the alternative, diminished responsibility, which
would result in either acquittal or a murder conviction being reduced
to manslaughter.

Firstly what the prosecution must prove to gain a conviction on the
charges will be discussed. Secondly what the defence must prove in
order to escape conviction will be discussed. Last of all the two
different cases will be assessed and which case appears to be the
stronger side will be suggested.

The relevant jurisdiction has been assumed to be the Australian
Capital Territory, and all referred legislation references in this
paper are Crimes Act 1900 (ACT) unless otherwise specified.



In order for the accused to be convicted of murder of his wife and
3-year-old child, the prosecution will need to prove:

(a)That the accused did an act which caused the death of the two
victims; and

(b)The accused did so with:

i. an intention to cause their deaths, or

ii. with a reckless indifference to the probability of death.

(Section 12)

In regards to the first element, the prosecution must show the accused
caused the victim’s death. This is relatively straightforward in the
circumstances because it can be said that the victims’ deaths are the
‘natural consequence’[1] of him stabbing them.

The prosecution must also prove the accused intended their deaths,
that is, that the accused intended death to ensue from his conduct. (Per
Brenann J in He Kaw The v The Queen (1985) 157 CLR 523 at 569, 570)

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This is sometimes referred to as ‘specific intent’.

In this case the prosecution will argue the accused demonstrated this
intention by writing the letters expressing his intention to kill his
family in the five hours prior to his stabbing them. Further, it is
unlikely that he had any other intention than to kill his family (or
at least was recklessly indifferent to the probability of death) by
stabbing the victims numerous times.


For the prosecution to achieve a conviction for the attempted murder
of the younger child, they must prove:

(a) the accused intended to kill his three month old baby daughter,
and that

(b) despite the fact that the child did not die, the accused’s acts
were ‘sufficiently proximate’ to the completed offence of murder.

(Section 327)

With regards to the first element, the intention argument put for
murder (above) is equally applicable for attempted murder.

Regarding the second element, a distinction has been drawn between
preparing to commit a crime and attempting to commit it. Only the
latter is punishable. (Bronitt, and McSherry, 2001, p.437) In Britten
v Alpogut, the court said that the acts must be more than ‘merely
preparatory’ to be considered ‘sufficiently proximate’. The precise
test is unclear in Australia but a favoured approach is the ‘last act’
test. This test was established by R v Eagleton ([1855] 6 Cox CC
559). and requires the prosecution to prove “that acts remotely
leading towards the commission of an offence are not attempts, but
acts immediately connected with it are…in this particular case no
other act on the part of the defendant would have been required. It
was the last possible act.”

In this case it could be said the accused’s acts were sufficiently
proximate and fulfilled the ‘last act’ test, as there was no more that
the accused could do to complete the murder. The accused had taken all
possible steps to murder his daughter, it was only the end result that
did not work out.



In order for the accused to be acquitted for the murders and attempted
murder on the grounds of insanity, the defence will need to prove:

(a) That the accused had a mental dysfunction that affects a person to
a substantially disabling degree); and

(b) The accused was incapable of knowing:

i. what he was doing, or

ii. that his actions were wrong.

(Section 428)

The court will leave the first question to be decided by the jury, on
the basis of expert medical evidence. This is largely a matter of
fact, and the defence will put forward the evidence of Dr Milton to
show the accused was suffering from a mental dysfunction, namely

The defence will then need to show the accused was acting under such
defect of reason that he did not know his actions were wrong, or the
accused did not have the capacity to reason and think with sense and
composure. (M’Naghten [1983] 8 ER 718 at 722 ) There is no direction
within the legislation or in case law as to what this means, so this
must be left up to the jury to decide as a matter of fact after
hearing expert evidence as to the meaning in the particular case.
(Bronitt and McSherry, 2001, p.211)

Further, Dixon J considered the definition of what is ‘wrong’ in R v
Porter ([1933] 55 CLR 182 (at 190)) He said ‘wrong’ is assessed
“according to the everyday standards of reasonable people”.

In this case the accused believed what he was doing was the right
thing for his family. However, the defence could rightly argue that
the hypochondriasis affected the accused so greatly that he did not
have the capacity to reason and think with sense and composure. In
fact, his delusion was so strong that he had to do something about
this and tried to kill his family. It is likely that according to
everyday people, murdering your family for whatever reason would be
considered ‘wrong’.


For the conviction of murder to be brought to manslaughter with the
accused, the defence must prove:

(a) That the accused was suffering from an abnormality of the mind,

(b) That it substantially impaired his judgement and responsibility.

(Section 14)

Lord Parker CJ in R v Byrne ([1960] 2 QB 396 (at 403)) defined the
term “abnormality of the mind” as a state of mind that reasonable
people will judge as abnormal. It covers the mind in all aspects, not
only the perception on physical matters, the ability to from rational
judgement whether the act is wrong or right, but also the ability to
exercise will power to control actions with the rational judgement. It
is likely the accused’s hypochondriasis falls within this definition
because a reasonable person would see the disease as abnormal.

The second issue the defence will need to solve in order to
successfully plead diminished responsibility is that the accused’s
hypochondriasis substantially impaired his judgement. This mental
impairment must have had a great affect on the accused’s capacity to
understand the events, the wrongness or his act or the ability to
control his actions. (Bronitt and McSherry, 2001, p.280)



The prosecutions case may appear stronger and their case already
proven, as it is fair to say that the accused killed, (or attempted to
kill), his wife and two children. He fulfilled all the elements
required for a conviction of murder and attempted murder. The accused
made the appropriate actions towards killing his family and he also
showed intent, firstly by expressing his intent, stabbing them
numerous times and lastly being ‘visibly distressed’ when he found out
that his youngest daughter was still alive. The defence need to prove
insanity or diminished responsibility only on the balance of
probabilities. But at the same time the prosecution must shed doubt
upon the defence’s case. Insanity will result in full acquittal
whereas diminished responsibility will result in a murder conviction
being dropped to manslaughter. I believe that the accused has a strong
case to argue on not guilty on the grounds of insanity, as based on
expert witnesses,(DR Milton) I think it can be proven that the level
of the accsued’s hypochondriasis rendered him insane, as no sane
person or ‘reasonable man’ would kill their family even under the same
circumstances. I do not think the accused was acting as a reasonable
man and I believe that his delusions caused by his hypochondriasis
were so great that it can be proven that he was probably insane. The
accused I believe he did not know the quality of his actions.
Therefore I believe that the accused should be acquitted on the
grounds of insanity.



* Judge RN Howie QC, (1997) Butterworths Australian Criminal Law
Dictionary. Australia: Butterworths

* Bronitt, S and McSHerry, B. (2001) Principals of Criminal Law.
Sydney: LBC Information Services.

* Crofts, P. (1997) Criminal Law. Sydney: Cavendish Publishing


* He Kaw The v The Queen (1985) 157 CLR 523 at 569, 570

* R v Eagleton [1855] 6 Cox CC 559

* M’Naghten [1983] 8 ER 718 at 722

* R v Porter [1933] 55 CLR 182 (at 190)

* R v Byrne [1960] 2 QB 396 (at 403

Christina Muthurajah

Diminished Responsibility/Insanity

Criminal Law

Line 1




[1] The majority in Royall v The Queen (1991) 172 CLR 378, favoured
the ‘natural consequence’ for the actus reas component of murder. R v
Eagleton ([1855] 6 Cox CC 559 R v Eagleton ([1855] 6 Cox CC 559
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