The legislation that defines an offence sets the maximum penalty that courts can impose on anyone convicted of that offence.
Maximum penalties are reserved for the worst, most serious examples of an offence. For a single offence, judges and magistrates may not impose a heavier sentence than the maximum penalty for that offence.
The maximum penalty reflects parliament’s view on the seriousness of the offence. Maximum penalties for many offences, including all offences in the Crimes Act 1958, are set according to a penalty scale, as outlined in the Sentencing Act 1991.
The penalty scale for imprisonment has nine levels, ranging from Level 9 (which equates to six months’ imprisonment) to Level 1 (life imprisonment). The Victorian penalty scale also includes a maximum fine that can be imposed with each level of imprisonment (except for Level 1 life imprisonment).
Here are some examples of offences ranked according to the penalty scale.
|Level||Maximum term||Sample offences|
|Level 1||Life imprisonment||Murder
Trafficking in a drug of dependence (large commercial quantity)
Sexual penetration of a child under 12 years
Arson causing death
|Level 3||20 years||Manslaughter
Intentionally causing serious injury
Culpable driving causing death
|Level 4||15 years||Recklessly causing serious injury
Handling stolen goods
Trafficking in a drug of dependence (not a commercial quantity)
|Level 5||10 years||Threats to kill
Negligently causing serious injury
Knowingly possess child pornography
|Level 6||5 years||Recklessly causing injury
Possession of a drug of dependence (for the purpose of trafficking)
|Level 7||2 years||Going equipped to steal|
|Level 8||1 year||Cultivation of a narcotic plant (not for the purpose of trafficking)
Possession of a drug of dependence (not for the purpose of trafficking)
|Level 9||6 months||Concealing the birth of a child|
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