From the criminal lawyers case files: ‘Double Jeopardy’ law applied in Queensland for the first time – Part 1

In 2019, we wrote an article about a law introduced in Queensland in 2007 which allowed a person to be, in certain circumstances, re-tried for the offence of murder following an acquittal of that person at trial. In July 2019, this law was engaged for the first time and the first person in Queensland history was charged under this very unusual situation.

This is a two-part series in which I will discuss this very rarely used law, as well as the facts surrounding this case.

Background

For any criminal offences, other than murder, once a person has been acquitted at trial the prosecution is not allowed to charge the person again. That’s even if new evidence is discovered. In theory, if a person who is guilt at a trial (for any offence other than murder) walked outside of the courtroom and then made a full confession to committing the crime to the police then they could still never be charged and retried with the same crime.

This is known as ‘double jeopardy’ and there are several reasons why this law exists. If a person is found not guilty at trial for any offence (other than murder), they should be allowed to assume that the matter is finalised completely. They can have closure and move on with their lives without the fear of ever being prosecuted for the same offence.

Another reason is that it ensures that the police investigate crimes as thoroughly and as properly as possible the first time so that the best case is placed before the jury. If ‘double jeopardy’ laws didn’t exist, it would allow the police to have a ‘practice run’ at the first trial and then if the defendant were acquitted they could go away and fix their evidence to have the defendant charged again.

The facts

In order to understand how this law was applied, it is first necessary to have a comprehensive overview of the facts of this matter.

On 20 September 1987, a woman was found dead in the bedroom of her flat. She had been stabbed four times in the chest and five times in the back. She lay tangled in a pillow and bedclothes. A pair of her underwear were found torn and bloodstained on the floor nearby. During the autopsy, a tampon was found high in her vagina in a crossed position, which suggested that she had recently had sexual intercourse with the tampon in place.

The deceased woman was last seen on the evening of 12 September 1987 at a function that she had attended with work colleagues at a local sporting club. When her body was found it was partly clothed in garments similar to those she had worn at that function. A ‘TV Guide’ in her home was found open at the page for 12 September 1987. The last entry in a diary she kept was dated 11 September.

Washing she had hung outside her home on the afternoon of 12 September was still there when she was found some days later. Friends who had tried to contact her since 12 September had been unable to reach her. These facts, as well as the state of decomposition of the body, implied that the deceased had been killed on the night of 12 September 1987 after returning home from the function.

Police inquiries soon led them to a man whose name has not been revealed in full but was referred to as ‘TAL’. TAL was a former co-worker of the deceased. Witnesses said that the deceased and TAL had appeared to be romantically involved with each other for some weeks. An entry in the deceased’s diary showed that they had gone together to the Brisbane Show in August of that year.

They then had a cooling off in their relationship but they appeared to remain friendly with each other. At the function on the evening of 12 September, they were both drinking alcohol and they appeared to be happy and getting along.

TAL was cooperative when police spoke to him. He told them that he had gone to the deceased’s home with her after the function. He said that they had watched TV. The deceased made them both a cup of coffee. TAL then left. TAL admitted that he had previously tried to start a sexual relationship with the deceased but she did not want to and so he had never had sex with her.

TAL made a written statement and gave police samples of his blood and his hair. He gave police free access to the car that he was using. He told police that he could not remember if he had entered the deceased’s bedroom on the night on which she was killed but he said that he had been in her bedroom once or twice on previous occasions.

The pillow found next to the deceased’s body was bloodstained. Ten areas of that staining were tested and showed results consistent with the deceased’s blood group.

Two other areas, designated areas A3 and A4, showed results consistent with the blood of TAL. In 1987 this was the only way of comparing blood. The testing revealed that:

  1. Only one in 1033 members of the Australian population has a blood group consistent with the blood on areas A3 and A4. TAL was such a person. The deceased was not.
  2. Testing of the underwear in the area of the waistband, designated A2, returned results that were inconsistent with the blood of the deceased but were consistent with the blood of one in 500 members of the Australian population. TAL was one such person.
  3. Hairs found on the back of the deceased’s blouse and jacket were visually more consistent with the pubic hair of TAL than with any hair of the deceased.
  4. An inspection of TAL’s car produced no signs of blood, nor anything else relevant to the investigation.
  5. The clothing that TAL had worn on the night of 12 September also revealed nothing relevant. TAL’s sister had washed those clothes in her usual routine of doing laundry. Her evidence was that the clothes showed no signs of blood-staining. She had not washed a denim jacket he had worn but there was no blood on it. The respondent was not said to have any injuries to his body which could have caused the bloodstains.

Police never found the murder weapon. There was some indication from the deceased’s diary that she was seeing men other than TAL around the time of her death and the police were aware of the identity of a former boyfriend and several other men who knew her. The blood of some of these men was obtained and testing excluded their blood from the samples taken from the scene.

TAL was charged with the deceased’s murder. The only issue at the 1988 trial was the identity of the killer. The jury acquitted the respondent.

In our next article, we’ll explain the ‘new’ evidence that subsequently arose which ultimately led the police in 2019 to charging TAL with the murder of the deceased and how the court ultimately ruled.

If you’re needing assistance with matters concerning assault and offences of violence, Cridland & Hua are the specialists amongst Brisbane Law Firms, practising exclusively in criminal and quasi-criminal law. Contact us today.

 

 

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