R v Karen Emily Robson Hc Ak

JurisdictionNew Zealand
CourtHigh Court
Judgment Date24 Aug 2012
Neutral Citation[2012] NZHC 2157
Docket NumberCRI-2011-004-018498

[2012] NZHC 2157



The Queen
Karen Emily Robson

R Reed for the Crown

D Niven for prisoner

Sentencing of defendant following guilty plea to being part of a suicide pact — other party died — only one other sentencing decision for this offence — history of drug dependence and mental illness — difficulty in applying orthodox sentencing approaches — agreed that intensive supervision required — whether community service should be imposed

Held: The charge had been available for many years but only one case had been found which involved sentencing for this offence ( R v CE). The reason for that was that it only applied when there had been a genuine mutual suicide attempt. It did not apply if someone did not really try to kill him/herself but just assisted another. There had to be an unconditional commitment on the part of a defendant to take his/her own life, as well as the life of the partner who did it with him/her.

It was difficult to apply orthodox sentencing approaches to R's sentencing. The usual approach of fixing a starting point by assessing factors relating to the culpability of the offending was awkward in a charge like this where R had been in a state of great distress or depression, or for some other reason had reached the decision to attempt suicide. However an attempt had to be made to assess the culpability of R's offending.

A case where the survivor had been the protagonist, the chief mover and personality would be treated more seriously. There was nothing to show that R was the leader. It was clear from a diary that was kept that it was truly a mutual decision and R had not taken a lead role in what was physically done to bring about the suicide pact.

Although the Crown proposed a starting point of two years, the culpability was lower and would be around 18 months. Matters that were personal to R were highly relevant in assessing the end sentence. R's mental condition and health were significant mitigating factors, including her drug addiction. She was remorseful and had pleaded guilty. However, R had planned with another to take away human life and human life was to be revered and protected. The moral wrongness of a suicide pact had to be recognized by the courts and society. Strong disapproval of such an act by the community should be a deterrent.

The Sentencing Act 2002 required the Court to take into account an offender's rehabilitation and reintegration. In certain sorts of offending, that could only be given limited weight, but in this offending it could be given considerable weight. Taking into account these factors there would be no imprisonment and there would be a two year term of intensive supervision.

It was not certain that R would benefit from a community work sentence and it might bring her into contact with those who still had drug problems and lead to unhelpful associations. A community work sentence would not be imposed.

Sentence of two years intensive supervision with special conditions imposed.





Karen Robson you have pleaded guilty to being part of a suicide pact with “P” and you now appear before the Court for sentence.


The Police summary of facts discloses that you had been in a relationship with P for approximately three and a half years. I understand from your counsel Mr Niven that you in fact met some five or six years earlier at Pitman House, which is a drug and alcohol clinic. You lived together for that three and a half years and indeed I had understood from the statement of P's mother that at one stage marriage was a prospect. You were both drug users and you were listed on the opiate suppressant methadone programme.


Mr Niven has informed me that when you first met P was in a wheelchair after a motorcycle accident. With regular rehabilitation sessions he improved to the extent that he could get around with the assistance of a walking stick. He was in constant pain and suffered from chronic insomnia. He had ongoing problems with blood clots, which required surgery from time to time.


It is clear that you were both in a bad way in terms of depression and drug use at the time of the suicide pact. Mr Niven also has stated that you were under considerable financial pressure. P had been involved in a serious and expensive car accident some time before leaving him considerably in debt.


You have said that you contacted CADS and the authorities in the weeks prior to the suicide pact saying that you and P were thinking of suicide. On 9 September 2011 you decided between you that you would kill yourselves the following day. On that day you wrote several entries in a black diary. At least some of these were signed by both you and P. The statements show a keen sense of mutual commitment to each other and the sadness of your existence at the time. For instance, you said “… Well we're getting sleepy. Last will and testament Keep us together to be cremated together always nothing will split us up. Couldn't live in fear as well as all other stuff …”.


The sequence is not entirely clear from the summary but it seems …


At about 3.30pm that afternoon you woke. P was not next to you but was in the corner of the room. You at that stage panicked and called the emergency services.REDACTED … You were found at the back of the property. An entry was forced into the house. P was removed and taken to the Auckland Hospital emergency department for treatment, as were you. P died the next day. You were treated for carbon monoxide poisoning. This included two treatments in the hyperbaric unit at the Devonport Naval Base. You said to the Police in explanation that everything had become too much for you both and you were at rock bottom.


The importance of human life, what we call the sanctity of human life, and the terrible consequences when a life is lost were made very clear when P's mother gave her statement in court this morning. She told the Court how much she loved her son. She spoke of his great qualities and what he meant to her and her complete devastation at his loss. I acknowledge her bravery in making that statement and the extent of that loss. This sentencing cannot protect her from that loss but the impact on her is fully recognised.


I have before me a detailed and helpful report from a probation officer setting out her opinion and advice on your position. You are assessed as being at high risk of re-offending. There is high risk of doing self-harm due to your lifestyle, and medium risk of harming others; not in a physical way, but as victims of your dishonesty if you try to resume your drug habit. You are considered able to comply with community-based sentences and you acknowledge that you will need support and help in the future.


It is clear you do need direction and expert counseling. The probation officer says: “Ms Robson is more than remorseful, she is distraught and fragile and will need support if she is to have a productive future.”


You spoke to the probation officer about P with affection and respect. You did not blame anyone for your position. Indeed, you described your childhood as good. But you have been using drugs since you were 16 or 17 years old. You became addicted to heroin and then morphine. You have been on the methadone programme off and on for many years. You have been...

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