Judge rules boy, 14, is too young to be held criminally responsible for death of 16-year-old

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By Kim Novak

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A judge has ruled that a 14-year-old boy involved in the fatal stabbing of a 16-year-old is too young to be held criminally responsible.

Declan Cutler, 16, was killed in north Melbourne last year after getting separated from his friends following a Reservoir birthday party.

He was leaving the party in the early hours of March 13, 2022, when eight boys pulled up in a stolen Mazda hatchback.

The group, who had four knives between them, got out and stabbed and kicked Cutler. According to reports from The Guardian the group got in the car and drove off but returned briefly to "stomp" on the teen and remove his shoes, before leaving Cutler to bleed to death from his injuries.

Cutler was found with 152 injuries following the brutal attack, including 56 stab wounds and 66 blunt force injuries.

His heartbroken mother had claimed the brutal killing had been "over a girl" and Victoria police said that the assault was "one of the worst they'd ever seen".

Superintendent Paul O'Halloran said at the time: "I'm also told by the investigators reviewing some footage they were able to obtain that it was a very, very vicious assault. In fact, they were quite shocked about the brutality of the assault."

One of the boys involved, who was 13 at the time of the murder, was identified as part of the group and faced trial alone in July after being charged with murder and an alternate charge of manslaughter after allegedly taking part in stomping and kicking Cutler while he was being stabbed.

The child, who is now 14 and cannot be named for legal reasons, was the youngest person in the group and faced weeks in court where his lawyer argued that he should not be held criminally responsible due to his age.

The boy's attorney argued that he was not guilty, citing the doli incapax argument, referring to the presumption in law that a child is incapable of forming the criminal intent to commit an offense.

Any child under the age of 10 is automatically deemed incapable of being criminally responsible, however, the presumption can be rebutted for children between the age of 10-14 if the prosecution can prove to the court that the child knew what they were doing was seriously wrong.

 

At the supreme court in Victoria on Wednesday, Justice Rita Incerti found that there was a "reasonable possibility" that the boy did not know his actions were "seriously wrong in a moral sense" when he took part in the attack.

Justice Incerti added: "As such, this leads to the conclusion that [the boy] cannot be found guilty of murder and the alternative charge of manslaughter."

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The boy's lawyers convinced the court that the boy should not be held criminally responsible for his actions due to his age. Credit: Getty Images

The judge told the court that the child's cognitive and moral development suggested he "lacked agency" and had "a limited capacity for autonomy" based on evidence from a forensic psychiatrist, who determined the boy was vulnerable to being influenced by anti-social peers.

The ruling, which means the boy will walk free from court, was met with outrage from Cutler's supporters in the public gallery.

One person was heard yelling: "It's disgusting", while another cried: "My son next."

Featured image credit: Getty Images

Judge rules boy, 14, is too young to be held criminally responsible for death of 16-year-old

vt-author-image

By Kim Novak

Article saved!Article saved!

A judge has ruled that a 14-year-old boy involved in the fatal stabbing of a 16-year-old is too young to be held criminally responsible.

Declan Cutler, 16, was killed in north Melbourne last year after getting separated from his friends following a Reservoir birthday party.

He was leaving the party in the early hours of March 13, 2022, when eight boys pulled up in a stolen Mazda hatchback.

The group, who had four knives between them, got out and stabbed and kicked Cutler. According to reports from The Guardian the group got in the car and drove off but returned briefly to "stomp" on the teen and remove his shoes, before leaving Cutler to bleed to death from his injuries.

Cutler was found with 152 injuries following the brutal attack, including 56 stab wounds and 66 blunt force injuries.

His heartbroken mother had claimed the brutal killing had been "over a girl" and Victoria police said that the assault was "one of the worst they'd ever seen".

Superintendent Paul O'Halloran said at the time: "I'm also told by the investigators reviewing some footage they were able to obtain that it was a very, very vicious assault. In fact, they were quite shocked about the brutality of the assault."

One of the boys involved, who was 13 at the time of the murder, was identified as part of the group and faced trial alone in July after being charged with murder and an alternate charge of manslaughter after allegedly taking part in stomping and kicking Cutler while he was being stabbed.

The child, who is now 14 and cannot be named for legal reasons, was the youngest person in the group and faced weeks in court where his lawyer argued that he should not be held criminally responsible due to his age.

The boy's attorney argued that he was not guilty, citing the doli incapax argument, referring to the presumption in law that a child is incapable of forming the criminal intent to commit an offense.

Any child under the age of 10 is automatically deemed incapable of being criminally responsible, however, the presumption can be rebutted for children between the age of 10-14 if the prosecution can prove to the court that the child knew what they were doing was seriously wrong.

 

At the supreme court in Victoria on Wednesday, Justice Rita Incerti found that there was a "reasonable possibility" that the boy did not know his actions were "seriously wrong in a moral sense" when he took part in the attack.

Justice Incerti added: "As such, this leads to the conclusion that [the boy] cannot be found guilty of murder and the alternative charge of manslaughter."

wp-image-1263229557 size-full
The boy's lawyers convinced the court that the boy should not be held criminally responsible for his actions due to his age. Credit: Getty Images

The judge told the court that the child's cognitive and moral development suggested he "lacked agency" and had "a limited capacity for autonomy" based on evidence from a forensic psychiatrist, who determined the boy was vulnerable to being influenced by anti-social peers.

The ruling, which means the boy will walk free from court, was met with outrage from Cutler's supporters in the public gallery.

One person was heard yelling: "It's disgusting", while another cried: "My son next."

Featured image credit: Getty Images