Sentencing Process

After a person is found guilty of, or pleads guilty to, an offence, a sentencing judge or magistrate will take a number of considerations into account when deciding a sentence.

In Victoria, the approach taken to sentencing is known as instinctive synthesis. A judge will identify all the factors that are relevant to the sentence, consider the significance of each factor and make a decision about the appropriate sentence. Only at the end of the process does the judge determine the sentence.

Sentencing purposes and factors are weighed up according to their relevance to the circumstances of the offender and the offence . No one purpose or factor has a predetermined value. The judge balances (or synthesises) the purposes and factors in order to determine the most appropriate sentence.

Victorian Court Hierarchy and Sentencing

The hierarchy of courts in Victoria reflects the type of case each court can hear and the type of sentence it can give.

About 90% of sentencing in Victoria occurs in the Magistrates’ Court. The Magistrates’ Court deals with less serious (summary) offences and some indictable (serious) offences that may be tried summarily, such as burglary.

The Sentencing Act 1991 restricts the maximum total sentence that may be ordered in any case sentenced in the Magistrates’ Court to:

  • two years’ imprisonment for a single offence
  • five years’ imprisonment for multiple offences and/or
  • fines of up to 500 penalty units for individuals ($79,285 in 2017–18) and fines of up to 2,500 penalty units for corporations ($396,425 in 2017–18), where an individual or corporation has been convicted of an indictable offence tried summarily.

The County Court hears most indictable offences, such as culpable driving causing death, rape and armed robbery.

The Supreme Court hears the most serious offences, such as murder and manslaughter.

The maximum penalty available for an offence in the County and Supreme Courts (the higher courts) is the maximum penalty stated for the offence in legislation.

Sentences imposed by the Magistrates’ Court for indictable (serious) offences tried summarily are generally less severe than sentences imposed by the higher courts for the same offences. This reflects the lower level of seriousness of indictable offences triable at the summary level, compared with those heard in the higher courts.

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