Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

Homicide in the Course of Other Crime in Australia

Academic journal article Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice

Homicide in the Course of Other Crime in Australia

Article excerpt

Homicide is a multifaceted crime, and policies oriented to prevention must be built on solid data and a clear understanding of the various characteristics of homicide and situations in which it might occur. This paper focuses on one such situation: homicide incidents that occur in the course of other crime (for example, during a robbery or a sexual assault).

Of the 4,108 homicide incidents that occurred in Australia between 1989 and 2002, 542 (13 per cent) occurred in the course of another crime. These incidents differ significantly from "non-crime" homicide incidents.

Over the 13-year period, there has been less than one such homicide per week, yet the random and criminogenic nature of these homicides requires the preventive focus to be on violent crime and weapon use.

Homicides caused in the course of another crime are solved in 78 per cent of cases, whereas other homicides are solved in 89 per cent of cases. Most homicides that occur in the course of another crime occur during a robbery (about three-fifths). Whereas two-thirds of homicide victims are men, three-quarters of robbery-homicide victims are men. Whereas one-quarter of homicide victims are aged 45 or older, one-half of victims killed in a robbery are over the age of 45.

The data presented in this analysis have been compiled to further our understanding of the complexity of homicide and to assist police in their work.

Adam Graycar

Director

Homicide is arguably the most serious offence that can be committed against a person. However, on some occasions, the act of homicide is a "side effect" or unplanned consequence of another criminal act (Maxfield 1989). Such homicides usually involve what Polk (1994) refers to as "double victims"; that is, the victim in the initial crime of robbery or sexual assault becomes the victim in the homicide as well.

Homicides that occur during the course of other crime are commonly classified as "instrumental homicides" because the death of the victim is subsidiary to the primary goal-acquisition of money, property or control (Miethe & Drass 1999). Interviews conducted with convicted robbers indicate that a majority were motivated by instrumental reasons such as getting money or merchandise, or for purchasing drugs (Feeney 1986; Gabor et al. 1987). Most robbers' and sex offenders' initial aim is therefore not to kill their victims, but rather to steal or commit sexual assault. Murder becomes incidental in the sense that it accidentally occurs through the use of excess force-an "eggshell" situation where the victim is susceptible to injury or where the victim resists, resulting in the offender over-reacting.

Based on offence report information collected as part of the National Homicide Monitoring Program (NHMP), an average of 13 per cent of homicide incidents occurring in Australia each year take place during the commission of another crime (42 out of an average of 316 incidents per year). This compares to 17 per cent in the United States in 2001 (Federal Bureau of Investigation 2002), 12 per cent in England and Wales in 2000-01 (Home Office 2002), and 23 per cent in Canada in 2001(1) (Dauvergne 2002).

Despite yearly fluctuations, the number of homicides occurring during the course of other crime in Australia has remained relatively stable between 1 July 1989 and 30 June 2002 (Figure 1). Over half of the homicides that occurred during the course of another crime, referred to hereafter as "crime homicides" occurred during the course of a robbery (56 per cent). A further 23 per cent of crime homicides occurred during the course of a sexual assault. Eight per cent occurred during a break and enter, and less than five per cent of crime homicides took place following a kidnapping/abduction.

These figures may underrepresent the true incidence of crime homicides in Australia. This is particularly the case for sexual homicide. Burgess and colleagues (1986, p. …

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