Lauren Dickason trial: New Zealand's lenient law on infanticide may be in favour of defence

In a case that has sent shock waves across the globe, a South African mother, Lauren Dickason, has gone on trial in New Zealand for the murder of her three young daughters. Picture: Supplied

In a case that has sent shock waves across the globe, a South African mother, Lauren Dickason, has gone on trial in New Zealand for the murder of her three young daughters. Picture: Supplied

Published Jul 28, 2023


Warning: This story contains graphic details and may be triggering to some readers

New Zealand’s lenient laws on infanticide may favour murder-accused Lauren Dickason’s defence against the prosecution, who want to prove she’s guilty of the premeditated murder of her three daughters.

This was argued in court on Friday by prosecutor Andrew McRae and expert psychiatrist witness, Dr Susan Hatters-Friedman, according to reports by Stuff.NZ’s Jake Kenny.

During cross examination, McRae asked Hatters-Friedman questions about infanticide, a subject she has published peer reviewed articles about.

The American psychiatrist worked in New Zealand from 2011 to 2018 and now lives in the US, the court heard.

There is no charge or defence against infanticide that operates in the US, it was noted.

Other countries, including South Africa, allow for the defence in cases where the murder victims are under 12-months-old.

This, according to an article by Naeemah Abrahams from the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC).

“Infanticide is when a child under one-years-old is killed,” Abrahams wrote.

In New Zealand, however, the law applies up until the age of 10.

If found guilty of infanticide, the country’s law states: “for manslaughter, there is no presumptive sentence. As the least blameworthy form of culpable homicide, infanticide has a maximum penalty of three years’ imprisonment.”

Hatters-Friedman explained that this was because of the country’s perspective on the effects of post-partum depression, wrote.

McRae also questioned Hatters-Friedman's interview with the accused, which the court heard, was conducted through a video link.

“... would you agree that is not the most ideal … to best read the person, would it be better to see them face-to-face?” McRae asked Hatters-Friedman.

“Being in person may be a little better, but I didn’t have any concerns about what Lauren was saying to me,” she was quoted as having replied.

McRae also questioned the effect of her interviewing Lauren a year after the murders would have had, as compared to interviewing her shortly after the killings.

He asked Hatters-Friedman if it would have been better to interview her shortly after the killings, then again, a while after, to draw a better conclusion on her mental state.

She said “yes”, saying if she was called earlier, she would have seen her earlier.

McRae asked the expert psychiatrist whether she had discounted anger as a factor when taking into account Lauren’s actions the night of the killings.

“No one thought to call child services … often times people message frustration to friends. When she mentioned murder, no one thought she was planning a murder,” she was quoted saying.

The prosecutor indicated that by killing the children, Lauren would have got revenge over her husband Graham.

The court previously heard evidence from the wife of Graham’s work colleague Mark Cvitanich, Cathy.

Cathy described pulling up to the home the evening of the murders, to find Graham on the “end of the driveway…crying”.

Cathy said Graham told them: “She’s done this to hurt me”, then adding: “It’s my fault”.

McRae brought the court’s attention to this statement.

The court then heard that partner revenge is one of the five motives previously identified by Hatters-Friedman.

Hatters-Freidman replied, saying: “He was in shock, his kids were just murdered”.

The trial of murder-accused Lauren Dickason will continue on Monday.

Infanticide and insanity has been a key point of Lauren Dickason’s defence, while the crown wants to prove pre-meditated murder.

Over the last two weeks, the court heard evidence from first responders, arresting and investigating officers, Lauren Dickason’s mother, her husband Graham as well as close relatives, all of whom have appeared to paint a picture for the defence and prosecution.


Are you or someone you know affected by mental health? If so here are some important numbers:

  • The SA Depression and Anxiety Group's 24-hour mental health helpline: 080-045-6789.
  • The SA Federation for Mental Health: 011-781-1852.