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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

CaseStudy-Australia's first female to be sentenced to life imprisonment

Regina v Knight (2001) NSWSC 1011

Katherine Mary Knight was arraigned on 2 February, 2001 on a charge of having murdered John Charles Thomas Price at Aberdeen in the State of New South Wales on or about 29 February 2000. She pleaded not guilty. The trial was initially set for 23 July, 2001 but was adjourned due to the illness of her counsel. She maintained her plea of not guilty and the trial was re-set for 15 October, 2001.  There was some minor delay in the beginning of the trial because of the need to augment the jury panel. This arose because of, among other things, the nature of the case and the possible unpleasant effects on the members of the jury of the graphic and unsettling evidence to be called in the trial.
            Morals are defined as conformity to the rules of right conduct. Ethical is defined as relating to or dealing with morals or right and wrong conduct. Moral standards can be private or public. In this particular legal case, it is public as the extent of the outcome is kept well within the moral standards of society as a whole. The outcome of this case reflects the ethical standards of society as it shows who is right and who is wrong. The law often reflects moral and ethical standards of many individuals, so society’s values play a very important role in determining the extent of how moral and ethical standards are viewed.
             The murder of John Price was so gruesome and diabolical that it went beyond the experience of many of the professional people, including experienced psychiatrists, that were involved in the case. The post mortem examination revealed that Mr Price had been stabbed at least 37 times in numerous parts of both the front and back of his body. There may have been more wounds inflicted, but the extent of those found and the succeeding acts of the prisoner in relation to Mr Price’s body rendered it impossible to know how many more there may have been and in particular the number of wounds which may have been inflicted in the area of his neck.
 A number of police officers who were highly experienced in examining crime scenes found the need to take stress leave because of the situation with which they were confronted when examining the crime scene at Mr Price’s house. Objectively the circumstances mark the killing and its accompanying incidents as being of the most gruesome kind, the murder as being in the most serious category of that crime.
            Section 19A of the Crimes Act 1900 provides that :
(1) A person who commits the crime of murder is liable to imprisonment for life.
(2) A person sentenced to imprisonment to life for the crime of murder is to serve that sentence for the term of that person’s natural life.      
            The outcome of this case reflects moral standards in the fact that no person should ever be allowed to take someone’s life the way Katherine Knight did of her de facto. It is of no acceptable conduct and there is no morals in allowing any leniency towards Katherine Knight’s actions. For a person to maliciously stab another thirty-seven times and then conduct in skinning another’s flesh completely does not reflect any moral or ethical standards. Over time there are changes in social attitudes and perceptions of what is morally right and wrong, however, to deprive someone of their life in the manner that Katherine Mary Knight did, will never be seen as morally right. Katherine Knight showed no mercy to Mr Price and the prosecution proved that the murder was to her enjoyment as she had repeatedly expressed threats regarding the taking of his life. No remorse was displayed by Mrs Knight and in sentencing the offender there was only one suitable outcome. As the outcome of this case was that Katherine Mary Knight was the first ever female in Australia to receive imprisonment for life. It is a very definitive reflection of the moral and ethical standards that society upholds. The extent to which the outcome of Katherine Knight’s trial reflects moral and ethical standards is undoubtedly answered in the fact that parole was not considered an option in sentencing her and the judge proclaimed that due to her actions she removed all right to ever walk among us again. The only appropriate penalty for the Katherine Knight is life imprisonment and that parole should never be considered for her. Katherine Knight should never be released.
            Justice for society involves the legal system giving members of society the reassurance and peace of mind that they live in a safe environment. Offenders need to be dealt with quickly and effectively to insure that society as a whole believes they are safe. The effectiveness in the law in achieving justice in this particular case is very strong and compelling. This is justified through the trial in how Katherine Knight pleads her defence through the use of amnesia and is still convicted. In her record of interview taken late in the morning of 4 March 2000, Mrs Knight claimed that she had no recollection whatsoever of the events involving Mr Price’s death. During the trial Mrs Knight chose not to give evidence. In achieving justice it was not made any easier by the offender. Mrs Knight claimed she suffered from amnesia, but due to the amount of recollection she possessed her claim of amnesia was only too convenient for her, both emotionally and litigiously. Mrs Knight’s claims of amnesia is of little or no account in relation to the question of the penalty to be imposed upon her. There was no doubt that her claim to amnesia forms part of her plan to affect madness in order to escape the consequences of her acts and to provide a convenient basis, on which to rely to avoid detailed questioning by the police and escape punishment.
            In achieving justice for the Price family three doctors were used in the trial. To achieve justice they provided essential information in proving that Katherine Knight’s level of culpability was to the level of extreme, and that her mental capacity was not rendered at the time of when she committed the murder. Also the Supreme Court of New South Wales had to determine whether or not the murder was pre-meditated. To achieve justice the standard of proof had to be beyond reasonable doubt. This standard applies to any disputed facts which are not covered by the verdict or plea of guilty. The effectiveness of the law in achieving justice for individuals and society often conflicts with each other. In this particular case there was very little conflict within the interests of society and the individuals. Protection for society and the individuals was a must in deciding the outcome of this case.
            Katherine Knight not only decided to murder Mr Price, but planned the timing and what she was going to do in a manner which left open to her, as she thought, a way of escaping punishment, namely that she would be considered as mad. Furthermore, Mrs Knight has no real prospects of rehabilitation and would be highly dangerous to the community were she to be allowed out of prison. Imprisonment is the only way in which the element of personal deterrence can operate in relation to the Katherine Knight.
            The effectiveness of the law in achieving justice is displayed through the use of doctors to gain evidence, interviews to receive information on Katherine Knight’s background, victim impact statements from the deceased’s children and any other evidence gained to prove that Katherine Knight displayed the reasonable men’s rea when committing the crime. At the end of the trial the offender entered a plea of guilty and finally after almost two years some justice is provided to the Price family. The task of the Court in imposing the sentence was not an easy one. It must have given due weight to all relevant factors. Those included the protection of society, retribution and where appropriate deterrence and reformation.
            As society evolves, the law needs to change to reflect, among other things, economic and technological developments, different social values and new concepts of justice. The law should reflect the conditions that exist in the present society. Changing conditions create a need for reform of the law. The question that is arisen from this case was that did Katherine Knight receive a justifiable punishment in relation to how she took the life of John Price? This case in particular brings forward the question of, is would capital punishment be a necessary means of retribution in this case.                                                                                                                       Concepts of justice are always changing and are very difficult to define at any given time. The movement away from capital punishment is an example of changing views. However, if capital punishment was the sentence in this trial would it have given complete closure to the Price family, did they receive the justice they deserved? In New South Wales life means life - so the maximum sentence is life imprisonment without parole. The issue of law reform to the extent of re-introducing capital punishment would cause a major concern for debate among the media, politicians and society as a whole.                                                                                                           Arguments put in favour for the reintroduction of the death penalty would be when a criminal like Katherine Knight commit’s a crime to the same seriousness that she did they should receive like punishment in return. Capital punishment will almost definitely deter others from committing the same type of offence. It would decrease the cost of maintaining life prisoners in gaol and from the point of view from the R v Knight case if capital punishment was available it may have been the only alternative.
The death penalty affirms the right to life by punishing those who violate it in the most strict form.
            In conclusion, Katherine Knight’s action in regard to the murder of John Price in 2000 were unjustifiable and by no means a reflection of ethical or moral standards upheld by society. The effectiveness of the law in achieving justice for individuals and society played a major role in establishing deterrence for other criminals who are even thinking of committing such a diabolical act like the murder Katherine Knight committed. The outcome of this case not only created history but since then it has caused much debate about whether or not Katherine Knight got the punishment she deserved.

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