–One-punch laws a ‘bargaining chip’ for offenders, victim’s mother says

October 13, 2017

The mother of a young man killed by a fatal punch fears Victoria’s one-punch laws will never be used, and that attackers are instead bargaining their way out of serving mandatory 10-year jail terms.

Prosecutors withdrew separate applications for judges to impose 10-year minimum jail terms on Richard Vincec, who killed Jaiden Walker with a punch thrown in May, and Andrew Lee, who fatally struck Patrick Cronin in a bar brawl last year when the teenager was helping a friend.

Parents’ fury as Patrick Cronin murder charge dropped

The man accused of killing the teenager, 33-year-old Andrew William Lee, now faces a single charge of manslaughter. Vision courtesy Seven News Melbourne.

The recent backdowns mean no one has yet been prosecuted under the one-punch laws the Napthine government introduced in 2014, which require a mandatory minimum prison term of a decade for fatal coward punches.

Caterina Politi, whose son David Cassai died after an attack in Rye on New Year’s Eve 2012, said she was annoyed for the families involved the legislation wasn’t used in the most recent cases, and was concerned it never would be.

“It won’t be used,” Ms Politi said.

Patrick Cronin, 19, was fatally punched by Andrew Lee while in the middle of a brawl at The Windy Mile bar in Diamond Creek in April last year. He died the next day in hospital.

On a night out in May, Richard Vincec was aggrieved when Jaiden Walker, 22, wouldn’t shake his hand outside the Cherry Bar in Melbourne’s CBD. Vincec leant over a woman and punched Mr Walker, who fell to the ground and suffered head injuries. Mr Walker died days later in hospital.

When an alleged offender is charged with manslaughter, prosecutors can apply for them to be sentenced under the one-punch laws. 

For the laws to apply, prosecutors must satisfy judges that a death was caused by an unlawful blow to the head or neck, which was unexpected and which the alleged attacker knew was unexpected.

If successful, the mandatory 10-year jail sentence would apply.

Manslaughter carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in jail, but in the Lee and Vincec cases, prosecutors could not meet all the elements required under the one-punch legislation, meaning their jail terms could be less than 10 years.

Both men have pleaded guilty to manslaughter and are awaiting sentence.

Ms Politi said the one-punch laws had become a bargaining chip for offenders to avoid spending 10 years in jail by pleading guilty to manslaughter.

“My interpretation is they don’t want to face a 10-year minimum so they say ‘I’ll plead guilty to manslaughter and maybe I’ll get five or six years, and maybe seven, but maybe even three’,” she said.

For the laws to be used, she said, prosecutors needed to get tough and the Court of Appeal needed to hold firm against legal challenges.

“The judges don’t want to have mandatory sentences because it takes their discretion away,” Ms Politi said.

“We wouldn’t need mandatory minimums if the sentencing was harsher.

“I am not legally trained, but you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know the system is failing.”

Ms Politi founded the awareness campaign Stop. One Punch Can Kill after her son’s death and has been in touch with the Cronin and Walker families to offer support given her own frustrations with the legal system, which she said focused too much on perpetrators and not victims.

Mr Cassai’s killer, Dylan Closter, was jailed for nine years and three months.

The Law Institute of Victoria opposes mandatory sentences because, it said, they undermine the discretion of judges in sentencing.

“There is no evidence that mandatory sentencing actually reduces crime rates and it could potentially lead to increased crime rates as imprisonment has been shown to lead to entrenched criminal behaviour,” a spokesman said.

“Mandatory sentences do not make us feel safer and do nothing to address the underlying reasons of why offences are committed.

“More people are being jailed than ever before in Victoria and crime rates remain high.”

The Law Council of Australia holds the same view and has previously called for one-punch laws in Victoria and NSW to be scrapped.

The Office of Public Prosecutions declined to comment. The Supreme Court and Attorney-General Martin Pakula said they could not comment with Lee and Vincec yet to be sentenced.

More than 40 people have died across Australia in acts of social violence since the start of last year, and recent crime statistics show there was an increase of almost 6 per cent in assault-BOOKr.VIP offences in Victoria in the past year.

Ms Politi said “we still have a long way to go” to address the spate of violence.

“If someone started talking about this subject 10 years ago maybe David would still be here. If no one speaks about this issue we are never going to change anything,” she said. – #1 News in a FLASH

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