What is a non-parole period ?
The much publicised murder case of Gerard Baden-Clay has just been finalised. Baden-Clay, a real estate agent living in Brisbane was found guilty by a jury, following a 3 week trial at the Supreme Court of Queensland.
It was a strong prosecution case, where the Crown relied on various pieces of circumstantial evidence, that when taken all together, amounted to evidence to ‘prove beyond reasonable doubt’ that Baden-Clay murdered his wife.
The key pieces of evidence were, but not limited to the following:
- Motive- The Crown argued that the defendant wanted to kill his wife so that he could continue his affair with a Ms. Toni McHugh. His relationship with his wife had been on the downfall for sometime, and he wished it to end by murdering her.
- The scratches on the victim’s face- The defendant argued that the scratches were the result of a razor cut. The Crown presented expert evidence to suggest that the scratches most likely came from a nail, rather than a razor.
- The leaves found on the body of the victim- The Crown presented evidence that there were 6 types of leaves found on the body of the victim, all of which belonged to trees in the front yard of the victim’s house. The Crown suggested that they got there when she was dragged along the ground after she was murdered.
- DNA of another person found under the victim’s fingernails- Compelling evidence suggested that the victim had someone’s DNA underneath her fingernails, suggesting that she scratched someone shortly before her death.
In the end, the Crown presented a compelling case for murder, and succeeded in convincing the jury beyond reasonable doubt that Baden-Clay murdered his wife.
Gerard Baden-Clay was sentenced immediately after the verdict was handed down. He was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of life, with a minimum term of 15 years. This is also known as a ‘non-parole period’. Meaning that he will spend at least 15 years behind bars.
But does this mean that he will be released automatically after 15 years?
After the expiration of the non-parole period, the defendant will be eligible for parole. This does not give him a get out of jail free card. He is not automatically entitled to parole.
What determines whether someone is granted parole?
Many factors are taken into account by the State Parole Authority when deciding whether the defendant, after serving his non-parole period, should be released to parole. Amongst those considerations are:
- The good or bad behaviour in prison,
- Education and rehabilitation in prison,
- The effect that an order for release to parole will have on the community,
- The effect that an order for release to parole will have on the victim and/or their family,
- The remarks of the sentencing judge,
- Whether it is in the interests of the community that the offender be released.
In the case of Baden-Clay, the judge made specific remarks cautioning any parole authority on the possibility of parole in 15 years time. His remarks will be strongly considered when Baden-Clay seeks release to parole in 15 years.
One would think that the Parole authority will be extremely cautious before granting parole to Baden-Clay, in light of the high profile nature of the case, and the Judges remarks on sentencing in that respect.
Baden-Clay may well spend many more than 15 years behind bars.