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The sentencing dilemma when defendants are found not guilty by way of insanity

31 May 2024

| Author: Jamie Dierick

Mental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act 1992 – disposition – murder – defendant not criminally responsible by way of insanity – consideration of whether detention required – public safety requirements – rehabilitation and reintegration considerations – special detention ordered

R v Eteuati [2024] NZHC 1204 per Gault J

 

On the 24 May 2022, Christian Eteuati engaged in what was described by Gault J as a “vicious, frenzied, and unprovoked attack” on Tom Coombes, using a knife.

Eteuati returned home, still carrying the bloodied knife, and showed it to his younger brother, telling him the blood was a “person’s blood, human blood”. Eteuati then discarded the knife in his mother’s car before leaving the address. He was found by police in a wastewater tunnel on 28 May 2022.

On 8 February 2024, the High Court held that Eteuati stabbed Coombes, causing his death. However, the court determined that Eteuati was not criminally responsible, by way of insanity. It ordered that inquiries be made to determine the most suitable method of dealing with him.

Gault J was required to consider whether detention in a hospital or security facility was necessary.

The court was required to consider all the circumstances of the case, including evidence from the health assessors, one of whom must be a psychiatrist, and determine whether detention in a hospital as a special patient under the Mental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act 1992 is necessary.

The court must evaluate both immediate and long-term risks to public safety, alongside the individual’s rehabilitation and reintegration needs.

The standard for detention is whether an order is necessary in the public interest. The bar is high, requiring more than desirability, due to the serious consequences of detention. It involves significant oversight with the Minister of Health determining the duration of the order.

 

Applicable principles: high threshold for restrictive orders – long-term management and treatment – criminal responsibility

 

Held: After considering all the circumstances of the case and the evidence of the health assessor psychiatrists, Gault J determined it was necessary in the interests of the public, and in Eteuati’s longer-term interests, to make an order that he be detained in a hospital as a special patient under the Mental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act 2003.

 

Jamie Dierick is an employed criminal defence barrister 

 

Eteuati 2024-NZHC-1204

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