Accessory after the Fact & the Forfeiture Rule

The forfeiture rule prevents a person from benefiting from their wrongful conduct, as it would be unconscionable to allow a killer to take a financial benefit from their unjust action.

Courts permit no dilution of the rule, therefore, being convicted of murder or manslaughter regardless of the facts of the case means that no benefit can be obtained. Some jurisdictions have passed legislation amending the rule to enable the Court to take account of the variety of circumstances in which a homicide may occur.

A woman’s body was found dumped in a suitcase in Perth’s Swan River in 2016; her identity remained a mystery for two months until Tiffany Wan reported that her mother Annabelle Chen was missing.

Annabelle’s ex-husband, Ah Ping Ban, was found guilty of murder and jailed for a minimum of 20 years last year. He has appealed the sentence.

Tiffany was acquitted for murder but found guilty of being an accessory after the fact and jailed for four years and 10 months; she was found to have helped her father cover up the crime, by among other things removing Ban’s footprints from her mother’s home.

Annabelle did not have a will when she died in 2016. But she did have a trust fund which held real estate and land believed to be worth several millions of dollars.

Steven Hill was found not guilty of the murder of his defacto partner Michel Carroll by reason of mental illness. Michel died intestate leaving two children: the older son, by a previous marriage; the younger son by Steven Hill; under NSW Intestacy law Hill would be entitled to the deceased’s personal effects, a prescribed legacy, and one half of the remainder (if any) of the deceased’s intestate estate.

Carroll’s children asked the Court that the forfeiture rule apply with respect to Hill as if he had been found guilty of the murder of Carroll. The Court ruled that Hill was not entitled to any interest in Carroll’s estate or its administration and that the estate should be distributed as if the deceased died leaving two children, and no spouse.

Similarly, Brent Donald Mack, 27, was convicted of murdering his mother Ah Bee Mack (also known as Pauline), automatically prohibiting him from benefiting from his mother’s estate; in 2014 Brent’s brother Adrian died intestate. In October 2016 a grant of letters of administration to the Public Trustee (“the Administrator”) of Adrian’s intestate estate was made. Brent and Adrian’s half brother Gary (who is not a child of Ah Bee Mack) were entitled to be beneficiaries of the estate under the Administration Act.

The Administrator sought the Supreme Court of Western Australia’s direction as to the distribution of that part of Adrian’s estate incorporating Ah Bee’s estate. The Court held the logical extension of the forfeiture rule that a convicted murderer could not benefit directly or indirectly as a consequence of his crime should apply. Although Brent was not responsible for Adrian’s death, his estate, would not have acquired any interest in Ah Bee’s estate but for her death. Furthermore, Adrian would not have had an entitlement to the whole of Ah Bee’s estate but for the forfeiture, rule applying owing to her death at Brent’s hand.

Wendy Robinson and Scott Settree are the only children of Donald and Margaret Settree. In December 2014 Scott shot his parents However, the Court determined that Scott was not guilty of murder by reason of mental illness. Donald and Margaret left reciprocal Wills (often called mirror Wills) providing that the whole of each estate passes to their children in equal shares as tenants in common; if either were to predecease their parents leaving children (that is, grandchildren of the deceased parents), then the grandchildren would, in equal shares, take the share which would have passed to their parent. Wendy has two adult sons, Scott had no children.

Wendy applied under section 11 of the Forfeiture Act 1995 NSW, for orders that the “forfeiture rule” apply to her brother, in the administration of the deceased estates of their parents; the Court was satisfied that justice requires that the forfeiture rule, in some form, be applied to Scott as if he had been found guilty of the murder of his parents.

Owing to Scott’s experience of mental illness, and the absence of criminal responsibility for the deaths of his parents, the Court ordered provision for Scott’s maintenance, education and advancement in life in the sum of $50,000 out of the estate of each of his parents (a total of $100,000) to be held on trust and, that the forfeiture rule apply to the balance of the estate as if he had been found guilty of the murders of Margaret and Donald.

The Court might be in a position to decide if Tiffany’s involvement was significant enough to disentitle her from inheriting Annabelle’s estate.

Tiffany and her father were both tried for the murder of Annabelle; both denied the murder and blamed each other for the killing. Following four days of deliberation, the Jury found Ban guilty of murder, acquitted Tiffany of murder but found her guilty of being an accessory after the fact.

At trial, it was found that Tiffany had significant knowledge of her father’s actions, and her ”assistance was prolonged and sustained,” washed his clothes, removing footprints from her mother’s home and sent text messages to her mother, and persistently lied to the police even though she knew her mother was dead.

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