A Guide on the Law on Assaulting Police

By Scott Feeney & Jimmy Singh.

 

About 6:45pm on the evening of Good Friday, thirty-year-old Constable Hayden Edwards was reportedly going about his duty when he was stabbed in the back at Central railway station.

The horrific incident has been reported as an un-provoked attack on a police officer in public.

It is alleged the attacker, Mark Thompson calmly and casually approached Constable Edwards from behind.

Constable Edwards was at the time speaking to witnesses in an unrelated matter on platform one. He was in attendance with three other Police Officers at the scene.

When the alleged stabbing occurred Constable Edwards fell to the ground. But amazingly, he almost immediately got back on his feet and trained his weapon on the alleged assailant, who was now squaring off at him as if anticipating retaliation.

Terrifying footage of the attack was caught on CCTV.

A stand-off with police officers was then triggered where it is alleged that Mr Thompson began threatening the other three officers who were in attendance with Constable Hayden.

As soon as constable Edwards realised that the other officers had positive control of the situation he collapsed back to the ground.

It was then that members of the public came to the police officers aid.

Shortly after, the incident then moved off camera and further along the rail platform.

Up to a dozen more officers dashed to the scene to assist.

 

The Arrest

The alleged attacker could be seen holding a black duffle bag waving a very large hunting knife around while facing off with police officers.

The officers all had their weapons drawn and witnesses say they were attempting to pacify Mr Thompson. According to witnesses they were unable to do this.

Onlookers reported seeing police officers utilise pepper spray which was not effective in overcoming him. Mr Thompson then jumped on to the train tracks.

An employee of Sydney rail said the alleged attacker was still unable to be subdued by police and it wasn’t until he was tasered that they were able bring an end to the situation.

It took 6 officers to carry the offender to a waiting police vehicle while he was allegedly still resisting the police.

Three ambulance crews attended Central station to attend to the incident.

Constable Edwards was taken to the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in a serious but stable condition.

 

The Police Officer’s Recovery

Constable Edwards had to undergo surgery for a 6cm wound to his back. He was discharged on Saturday evening. Although feeling sore and tired, he is expected to make a full recovery.

Police Assistant Commissioner Karen Webb said on Saturday.

“We allege that while they were talking to witnesses in that matter, a 53-year-old male approached our constable from behind … with some vigour … and slashed across his back [using] a hunting knife,”.

“Having seen the knife, our officer is very lucky to have walked away with only minor injuries.”

Constable Edwards is new to Sydney, having recently transferred from the country town of Moree. He has been in the NSW Police Force for three years.

 

The Criminal Charges

The alleged offender remained under police guard in Saint Vincent’s to receive treatment for a cut to his head.

After spending the night there, he was released Saturday morning and taken to Sydney’s Day street Police Station to face criminal charges.

Mr Thompson, whose last known address was in Townsville has been charged with wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, use of an offensive weapon to prevent lawful arrest, resist arrest, and being in custody of a knife in a public place.

Mr Thompson faced Parramatta Bail Court on Sunday, where bail was refused.

 

Witnesses

A Sydney Trains employee who witnessed the incident is reported to have said the alleged attacker was tasered by police.

“The offender has just walked up behind the police officer, who was doing his job talking to someone else, and stabbed him in the back,” Police Association of NSW president Tony King told reporters on Saturday.

An employee of Sydney rail said Police handled the situation “Professionally”.

A Guide on the Law on Assaulting a Police Officer in NSW

Under section 60(1) Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) anyone who is found guilty of assaulting, throwing a missile at, stalking, harassing or intimidating a police officer in NSW will face a maximum penalty of up to 5-year-imprisonment if:

  • It was done while the officer was in the execution of his/her duty; and
  • No actual bodily harm was caused to the officer as a result.

The maximum penalty is 7-years prison if the above occurs during a public disorder or if the above occurs which causes actual bodily harm to the police officer.

Actual bodily harm can include bruising, scratching, while grievous bodily harm includes broken bones.

However, the maximum penalty increases to up to 9-years imprisonment if actual bodily harm is caused to the police officer during a public disorder in the above circumstances.

In respect to assaults to police that result in causing actual bodily harm to the officer, the NSW courts are guided to consider imposing the 3-years standard non-parole period as a sentence to an offender.

The 3-years standard non-parole period represents a 3-year full-time prison sentence before an offender is eligible for release on parole if the offending conduct is assessed by the sentencing Judge to fall in the mid-range of objective seriousness for assault police offences.

The standard non-parole period is not to be applied by a Judge as a mandatory requirement. It’s meant to only apply as a guide to assist the sentencing Judge to come to an appropriate sentence.

Further, anyone guilty of wounding or causing grievous bodily harm to a police officer will face a maximum penalty of up to 12-years imprisonment if:

  • The officer was acting in the execution of his/her duty at the time; and
  • The offender was reckless at causing actual bodily harm to the police officer.

This offence also carries a 5-year standard non-parole period of prison.

Wounding includes serious or permanent disfigurement or a cut to an interior layer of the skin.

Being reckless means where an offender was at least aware that the bodily harm that was caused by his/her actions might have resulted from those actions yet did them anyway.

The maximum penalty is up to 14-years prison is anyone does this during a public disorder.

Assaulting a police officer who was not actually on his/her duty at the time will still be considered by the courts as an assault on the officer who was acting in the execution of his/her duty if:

  • The police officer acted as a consequence of actions undertaken by him/her in the execution of his/her duty; or
  • Where he/she was a police officer.

This is reflected in section 60(4) Crimes Act 1900 (NSW).

What Must the Prosecution Prove in Order for Someone to be Found Guilty of Assaulting Police? 

The Court cannot return a verdict of guilty to a charge of assaulting a police officer in NSW unless the prosecution first proves each of the following elements of the crime beyond reasonable doubt:

  1. The accused person assaulted, harassed, stalked or intimidated the police officer, or the accused person caused either actual bodily harm, wounded or caused grievous bodily harm to the officer; and
  2. The accused person intended to cause this injury or was reckless to causing ‘actual bodily harm’ (if charged with causing grievous bodily harm); and
  3. At the time, the police officer was acting in the due execution of his/her duty.

Anyone charged with assaulting police will be found not guilty if any of the following defences apply:

  • The police officer’s actions were outside his/her duty or power as a police officer at the time of the assault. i.e. where the officer did an illegal arrest or illegal search; or
  • The injury sustained by the officer was caused by someone or something other than the accused actions; or
  • Self-defence: This is where the accused person was acting in self-defence; or
  • The accused person acted under a necessity or duress; or
  • You will also be found not guilty if any of the essential elements of this crime mentioned above have not been proven by the prosecution beyond reasonable doubt in court.

Allegations of assaulting a police officer will be taken very seriously by NSW Courts. The maximum penalties that apply to anyone guilty reflect how serious the Courts are required to take this kind of crime.

Our criminal defence lawyers are located in Sydney city, with seven other offices in NSW who are available 24/7 on (02) 8606 2218.

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