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September 4, 2022

Real-life case from Australia involving an immoral photographer taking pictures rather than aiding

We will wrap up our quick discussion of omission liability on Wednesday by reviewing the Jones case closely and returning to the topic of who could and should be charged with a crime for letting little Josephine drown in my pool hypothetical.  (We will also get started on the topic of voluntariness with the Martin and Grant cases.)  I have been using the pool hypothetical in class for many years, and often students laugh when I describe the hard-to-believe character of a photojournalist student taking pictures of Josephine drowning rather than doing anything to help.  Indeed, I have long worried this part of my pool hypothetical was too outrageous to seem plausible.  

But last year, a student in this class told me about a recent real-life example of an immoral photographer — kind of like the photo-journalist in my baby-drowning-at-pool hypo — who was subject to a creative prosecution in Australia.  This 2021 press story, headlined "Richard Pusey: Australian jailed for filming dying officers," provides these details:

An Australian man has received a 10-month jail sentence for filming and mocking police officers as they lay dying at a crash scene.  Last month Richard Pusey pleaded guilty to the rare charge of outraging public decency, as well as other offences.

The 42-year-old has already been in custody for nearly 300 days, so he will probably complete his sentence within days. The sentencing judge called his actions "heartless, cruel and disgraceful".

Still, families of the victims were disappointed with the length of the sentence in a case that has stirred huge public anger.  Last month, Judge Trevor Wraight said the media had demonised Pusey to the point where he was "probably the most hated man in Australia".

The mortgage broker had been speeding in his car on a Melbourne freeway last year when he was pulled over by four officers. While they were making his arrest, all four were struck by a lorry that had veered out of its lane.

Senior Constables Lynette Taylor and Kevin King, and Constables Glen Humphris and Josh Prestney died at the scene. Pusey had been standing a few metres away and avoided the crash, but afterwards pulled out his phone and began filming numerous videos, some of which ran for more than three minutes.  The court had heard that Pusey stood over and taunted Senior Constable Taylor as she remained pinned under the lorry. Experts said she was most likely still alive at the time....

He fled the scene on Melbourne's Eastern Freeway shortly after.  The next day he was arrested at his home and initially charged with speeding, drug possession and reckless conduct offences.  However, police then also discovered Pusey's video and that he had shared it among friends.

The lorry driver, Mohinder Singh, was jailed earlier this month to 22 years for the deaths.  A court found that the truck driver had been high on drugs, suffering delusions and hallucinations, and driving erratically when he ploughed his truck into the officers.

Judge Wraight condemned Pusey's behaviour while noting he was only being sentenced for his actions.  Pusey hadn't caused the deaths of the officers, contrary to some public opinion, the judge said.  "Your conduct in recording the police officers in their dying moments, together with the words you used as you recorded, was not only derogatory and horrible... but it was also callous and reprehensible conduct," Judge Wraight said.

He noted that Pusey had a history of mental health problems, including a complex personality disorder "which may go some way to explaining your behaviour". But he said it did not excuse his actions....

Families and supporters of the police officers criticised the sentence after it was handed down in Victoria's County Court. Stuart Schulze, the husband of Constable Taylor, said he felt "almost unbearable" pain every time he remembered how his wife was treated in her final moments.  "This sentence is totally inappropriate of this offending," Mr Schulze told reporters outside court.  He argued it was the court's duty to "set the appropriate standard" in penalising such behaviour.

The offence of outraging public decency has rarely been prosecuted in Australia, and the charge carries no set penalty. The head of Victoria state's police union also criticised the sentence. "Four upstanding heroes died on that day and… one soulless coward lived," Wayne Gatt said.

For anyone so interested, here is a link to the sentencing opinion in DPP v. Pusey.  Relatedly, law professor Jonathan Turley discusses this case in this blog post and highlights that, in the United States, Richard Pusey could not have been prosecuted for failing to aid the officers (though it is not clear he was prosecuted for that crime in Australia, either).

September 4, 2022 in Course materials and schedule, Notable real cases | Permalink


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