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Threats to Inflict Serious Injury

Threats to Inflict Serious Injury

In Victoria, the offence of Threats to Inflict Serious Injury is in section 21 of the Crimes Act 1958 Vic and is telling another that you will seriously injure them.

Have you been accused of Threats to Inflict Serious Injury? You should get some confidential legal advice from one of our experienced lawyers as soon as you become aware of this allegation because there may be helpful evidence you need to protect.
 
Our dedicated criminal defence lawyers have helped many people charged with Threats to Inflict Serious Injury achieve great Court outcomes.

Police interview
If the Police have asked you to attend the Police station for an interview, you should arrange a conference with one of our lawyers. Our lawyers can advise you about what should be said during a Police interview. You may want to know – should I make a statement to Police? Should I attend a Police interview? Will I help my defence if I explain my side of the story?

It is important to know that anything you tell the Police without legal advice can make running a defence in Court more difficult in Court. Also, Police will only speak with you because they are trying to get information from you which helps their case, not yours.

Our defence lawyers can also attend the Police station with you if you would like help through the interview process.

Pleading not guilty
We are defence lawyers who specialise in defending charges of Intentionally Cause Injury. Make a time to speak with one of lawyers who can create a defence strategy for you.

In a case like this, you want a lawyer who is going to consider –Have the Police done a compete investigation? Are there people who the Police have not spoken to who might help your case? Is there evidence which helps your case which needs to be preserved?

By doing the necessary ground work, it may lead to a charge of Threats to Inflict Serious Injury being withdrawn by Police early or an acquittal.

Pleading guilty
Our lawyers have represented many people charged with making Threats to Inflict Serious Injury. We take the time to explain the risks of pleading guilty to this charge so you understand the risks, and material that should be gathered so you get the best possible outcome.
This is the sort of charge regularly heard in the Magistrates’ Court.

While threats may not result in any physical violence, they can still be treated very seriously by the courts, especially in circumstances of ongoing family violence. If you are charged with this offence you should seek advice from a defence lawyer straight away.
 
Examples of Threats to Inflict Serious Injury
  • You have been in a family feud with your relatives for many years. During Christmas lunch, you begin to argue, and your brother threatens to hurt you. You respond by threatening to cut him with a kitchen knife.
  • You’re having a heated argument with your partner. You find out that they’ve cheated on you, and you threaten to break their legs.
Legislation
The offence of Threats to Inflict Serious Injury arises under section 21 of the Crimes Act 1958.

Elements of the offence
The offence has the following three elements that the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt:

  1. The accused made a threat to the victim to inflict serious injury upon either the victim or another person;
    This is quite a broad element, as many different circumstances can constitute a making a threat. A threat can be made by words or conduct,1 or could be made in writing.2 The prosecution don’t have to identify precise words or conduct, and the court can find that a course of conduct constitutes a threat.3 It’s also not necessary that the victim actually feared the threat would be carried out.4“Serious injury” is also quite broad. Under section 15 of the Crimes Act 1958, serious injury means an injury (including the cumulative effect of more than one injury) that ‘endangers life’, or is ‘substantial and protracted’. It includes the destruction of a foetus of woman, except in the course of a medical procedure, whether or not the woman suffers any other harm.In order for this element to be made out, the victim must have received the threat, although they need not be the person threatened.5 It is also not necessary that the accused and the victim have any particular relationship for the offence to be made out.6

    The threat may be for the accused person to inflict serious injury, or for another person to inflict serious injury.7 The threat can also be conditional on a future event – it doesn’t matter if the accused isn’t capable of carrying out the threat immediately.8
  2. The accused either intended the victim to fear that the threat would be carried out; or was reckless as to whether or not the victim would fear that the threat would be carried out;
    The accused must have intended for the victim to fear that the threat would be carried out, or have been reckless as to whether or not that other person would fear that the threat would be carried out.It is not necessary for the accused to have intended to carry out the threat. The only issue is whether the accused intended the victim to believe that the threat would be carried out.9 For instance, intention would be made out in circumstances where you threaten to cut off someone’s arm, but don’t actually intend to hurt them (you just intend for them to fear harm).

    To have been reckless as to whether or not the victim would fear that the threat would be carried out, the accused must have been aware, when they made the threat, that it was probable that the victim would fear that it would be carried out.10 It is not enough if the accused merely thought it was ‘possible’ that the victim would have been in fear.
  3. The threat was made without lawful excuse.
    The threat to inflict serious injury must have been made without any lawful justification or excuse.11

[1] R v Rich Vic CA 17/12/1997
[2] R v Jones (1851) 5 Cox CC 226
[3] R v Rich CA Vic 17/12/1997
[4] R v Rich Vic CA 17/12/1997; R v Alexander [2007] VSCA 178
[5] Crimes Act 1958 s21
[6] R v Solanke [1970] 1 WLR 1; R v Syme (1911) 6 Cr App R 257.
[7] Barbaro v Quilty [1999] ACTSC 119
[8] R v Leece (1995) 125 ACTR 1; Barbaro v Quilty [1999] ACTSC 119
[9] R v Alexander [2007] VSCA 178; Barbaro v Quilty [1999] ACTSC 119
[10] R v Crabbe (1985) 165 CLR 464; R v Sofa Vic CA 15/10/1990
[11] Crimes Act 1958 s21

 
What are some of the possible defences to Threats to Inflict Serious Injury?
Defences to this charge are normally factual as to what words were exactly said. There are also defences around what intent the words were said with and in what circumstances were they said. Mental impairment and intoxication are also possible defences depending on the circumstances of the alleged offending.

It must be noted that it can be hard to defend this charge if an admission is made that the threatening words were indeed said. This is because it is hard to contradict a person who says “yes I believed it” or to get past the supposition that someone would feel threatened.

Self defence is another possible defence in this area. A person acts in self defence when they believe, on reasonable grounds, that their actions are necessary.12 A person may reasonably make a threat to inflict serious injury in self defence in circumstances where it would not be reasonable to carry out the threat.13

Questions in cases like this
  • Did you actually threaten serious injury or did you threaten something else? E.g. Threatening to ruin someone’s life by telling their secret would not be covered under this offence.
  • Did the victim actually receive the threat? If you just wrote it down in your draft emails and never sent it, this wouldn’t be covered.
  • Was the threat an obvious joke between old friends or family? The court must look at the circumstances of your relationship with the victim when judging the seriousness of the threat.

[12] Zecevic v DPP (Vic) (1987) 162 CLR 645
[13] R v Cousins [1982] 1 QB 526

 

The offence of Threats to Inflict Serious Injury (s21 of Crimes Act 1958) has a maximum penalty of level 6 imprisonment (5 years).

Sentencing in the higher courts
There were 19 cases of Threats to Inflict Serious Injury that were heard in the Victorian higher courts from 1 July 2011 to 30 June 2016. These involved a total of 113 charges, most of which resulted in a prison term.

Of the 113 charges, 62.8% received a prison term, 20.4% a Community Correction Order, 5.3% a partially suspended sentence, 3.5% a wholly suspended sentence, 2.6% a fine, 2.6% a Youth Justice Centre order, 1.8% a Community Based Order, and 0.9% an adjourned undertaking/discharge/dismissal.

The longest prison term imposed was 3 < 4 years and was given to 1.4% of the 71 charges that resulted in imprisonment. This was however the least imposed period as the majority of those who received a prison term were sentenced to 0 < 1 year (45.1%).14

Please note that suspended sentences were abolished in the higher courts earlier than that of the Magistrates’ Court, and therefore all offences committed on or after 1 September 2013 will not have this available as a sentencing option.15

Sentencing in the Magistrates’ Courts
From 2013 to 2016, there were 2,242 cases of Threats to Inflict Serious Injury that were heard at the Magistrates’ Courts of Victoria. Majority of these cases received a Community Correction Order (32.2%) followed by Imprisonment (30.0%) and Fine (15.8%). Other sentences imposed were: Adjourned Undertaking / Discharge / Dismissal (12.7%), Wholly Suspended Sentence (6.2%), Partially Suspended Sentence (2.1%), Youth Justice Centre Order (0.8%), and Other forms of sentencing (0.2%).

Of the prison terms imposed, the longest was “36+ months” although this was given to only 1.0% of those who were sentenced to imprisonment. The most common period of imprisonment imposed was “< 3 months” (33.4%).16

Please note that suspended sentences were abolished in Victoria for all offences committed on or after 1 September 2014.17


[14] SACStat Higher Courts – Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) : s 21 – make threat to inflict serious injury < https://www.sentencingcouncil.vic.gov.au/sacstat/higher_courts/HC_6231_21.html >
[15] Suspended Sentence | The Sentencing Advisory Council < https://www.sentencingcouncil.vic.gov.au/about-sentencing/sentencing-options-for-adults/suspended-sentence >
[16] SAC Statistics – Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) : s 21 – make threat to inflict serious injury < https://www.sentencingcouncil.vic.gov.au/sacstat/magistrates_court/6231_21.html >
[17] Suspended Sentence | The Sentencing Advisory Council < https://www.sentencingcouncil.vic.gov.au/about-sentencing/sentencing-options-for-adults/suspended-sentence >