Sentencing Trends for Manslaughter in the Higher Courts of Victoria 2007-08 to 2011-12

Sentencing Snapshot 141
Date of Publication: 
8 May 2013

Sentencing Snapshot no. 141 describes sentencing outcomes for the offence of manslaughter in the Supreme Court of Victoria between 2007-08 and 2011-12.

The most recent Sentencing Snapshot for this offence is Snapshot no. 224.

You can also find statistics for this offence on SACStat.

Authored and published by the Sentencing Advisory Council
© Copyright State of Victoria, Sentencing Advisory Council, 2013

Introduction

This Sentencing Snapshot describes sentencing outcomes[1] for the offence of manslaughter and details the age and gender[2] of people sentenced for this offence in the Supreme Court of Victoria between 2007-08 and 2011-12.[3] Except where otherwise noted, the data represent sentences imposed at first instance.

The offence of manslaughter applies where a person kills another person in circumstances where the offender's culpability is less than that required to constitute murder.[4] Manslaughter is an indictable offence that carries a maximum penalty of 20 years' imprisonment[5] and/or a fine of 2,400 penalty units.[6]

Manslaughter was the principal offence[7] in 1.0% of cases sentenced in the higher courts between 2007-08 and 2011-12.

People sentenced

From 2007-08 to 2011-12, 97 people were sentenced in the higher courts for a principal offence of manslaughter. These people are the focus of this Snapshot. There were no people sentenced in cases that involved manslaughter but where some other offence was the principal offence. In total, 97 people were sentenced in the higher courts for 97 charges of manslaughter.

Figure 1 shows the number of people sentenced for the principal offence of manslaughter by their gender. Over the five years depicted, the majority of those sentenced were men (87.6% or 85 of the 97 people), including 10 of the 13 people sentenced in 2011-12.

Figure 1: The number of people sentenced for manslaughter by gender, 2007-08 to 2011-12

  Gender    
Financial year Male Female Total
2007-08 16 2 18
2008-09 19 2 21
2009-10 14 3 17
2010-11 26 2 28
2011-12 10 3 13
Total 85 12 97

Sentence types and trends

Figure 2 shows the total number of people sentenced for manslaughter and the number who received an immediate custodial sentence. An immediate custodial sentence is one that involves at least some element of immediate (as opposed to wholly suspended) imprisonment or detention.[8] Over the five-year period, 96% of people were given an immediate custodial sentence. This peaked at 100% (18 of 18) in 2007-08 and 100% (13 of 13) in 2011-12, with a low of 90% (19 of 21) in 2008-09.

Figure 2: The number of people sentenced for manslaughter and the number who received an immediate custodial sentence, 2007-08 to 2011-12

  Sentence type    
Financial year Custodial Non-custodial total
2007-08 18 0 18
2008-09 19 2 21
2009-10 16 1 17
2010-11 27 1 28
2011-12 13 0 13
Total 93 4 97

Table 1 shows the number of people sentenced for manslaughter from 2007-08 to 2011-12 by the types of sentences imposed.

Over the five-year period, the majority of the people sentenced for manslaughter received a period of imprisonment (89% or 86 of 97 people).

The number and percentage of people receiving imprisonment were lowest during 2008-09 (12 of 21 people, or 57%). The number receiving imprisonment was highest during 2007-08 (18 people), while the percentage was highest during both 2007-08 and 2011-12 (100% each).

Table 1: The number and percentage of people sentenced for manslaughter by sentence type, 2007-08 to 2011-12

Sentence type 2007-08 2008-09 2009-10 2010-11 2011-12 Total
Imprisonment 18 (100%) 12 (57%) 16 (94%) 27 (96%) 13 (100%) 86 (89%)
Youth justice centre order 0 (-) 7 (33%) 0 (-) 0 (-) 0 (-) 7 (7%)
Youth attendance order 0 (-) 2 (10%) 0 (-) 0 (-) 0 (-) 2 (2%)
Wholly suspended sentence 0 (-) 0 (-) 0 (-) 1 (4%) 0 (-) 1 (1%)
Community-based order 0 (-) 0 (-) 1 (6%) 0 (-) 0 (-) 1 (1%)
People sentenced 18 21 17 28 13 97

Age and gender of people sentenced

Figure 3 shows the gender of people sentenced for manslaughter grouped by their age[9] between 2007-08 and 2011-12. The average age of people sentenced for manslaughter was 30 years and 6 months. Women sentenced over this period were much older than men (an average age of 37 years for women compared with 29 years and 7 months for men). Four male juveniles were sentenced over this period.[10]

Figure 3: The number of people sentenced for manslaughter by gender and age, 2007-08 to 2011-12

  Gender    
Age group (years) Female Male Total
16 to 17 0 4 4
18 to 19 0 11 11
20 to 24 3 25 28
25 to 29 2 9 11
30 to 34 0 7 7
35 to 39 2 12 14
40 to 44 2 9 11
45 to 49 0 2 2
50 to 54 2 1 3
55 or older 1 5 6
Total 12 85 97

Sentence types by gender

Table 2 shows the types of sentences imposed for manslaughter grouped by gender. As shown, a higher percentage of men received a youth justice centre order (8.2% compared with no women). Conversely, a higher percentage of women received a wholly suspended sentence of imprisonment (8.3% compared with no men) and a period of imprisonment (91.7% compared with 88.2%).

Table 2: The number and percentage of people sentenced for manslaughter by sentence type and gender, 2007-08 to 2011-12

Sentence type Male Female
Imprisonment 75 (88%) 11 (92%)
Youth justice centre order 7 (8%) 0 (-)
Youth attendance order 2 (2%) 0 (-)
Wholly suspended sentence 0 (-) 1 (8%)
Community-based order 1 (1%) 0 (-)
Total 85 12

Sentence types by age

As shown in Table 2, the most common sentence type was imprisonment. The following analysis examines this sentence type by the offender's age group.

Imprisonment

As shown in Figure 4, sentences of imprisonment were most likely to be given to people aged between 25 and 39 years (100% or 32 of the 32 people in this age group).

Conversely, sentences of imprisonment were least common for those aged younger than 25 years (77% or 33 of the 43 people in this age group).

Figure 4: The percentage of people who received a period of imprisonment for manslaughter by age group, 2007-08 to 2011-12

Age group (years) Percentage
Younger than 25 76.7
25 to 29 100.0
30 to 34 100.0
35 to 39 100.0
40 or older 95.5

Principal and total effective sentences

Two methods for describing sentence types and lengths are examined in this section. One relates to the principal sentence and examines sentences for the offence at a charge level. The other relates to the total effective sentence and examines sentences for the offence at a case level.

The principal sentence is the individual sentence imposed for the charge that is the principal offence.[11]

The total effective sentence in a case with a single charge is the principal sentence. The total effective sentence in a case with multiple charges is the sentence that results from the court ordering the individual sentences for each charge to be served concurrently (at the same time) or wholly or partially cumulatively (one after the other).

In many cases, the total effective sentence imposed on a person will be longer than the principal sentence. Principal sentences for manslaughter must be considered in this broader context. The following sections analyse the use of imprisonment for the offence of manslaughter from 2007-08 to 2011-12.

Principal sentence of imprisonment

A total of 86 people received a principal sentence of imprisonment for manslaughter between 2007-08 and 2011-12.

Figure 5 shows these people by the length of their imprisonment term. Imprisonment terms ranged from 3 years to 14 years, while the median length of imprisonment was 8 years (meaning that half of the imprisonment terms were shorter than 8 years and half were longer).

The most common length of imprisonment imposed was 9 years to less than 10 years and 10 years to less than 11 years (14 people).

Figure 5: The number of people sentenced to imprisonment for manslaughter by length of imprisonment term, 2007-08 to 2011-12

Imprisonment length Number
3 to less than 4 years 2
4 to less than 5 years 6
5 to less than 6 years 8
6 to less than 7 years 13
7 to less than 8 years 13
8 to less than 9 years 9
9 to less than 10 years 14
10 to less than 11 years 14
11 to less than 12 years 4
12 to less than 13 years 2
13 to less than 14 years 0
14 to less than 15 years 1

Expanding the analysis from principal sentences of imprisonment to all charges that received imprisonment, no person sentenced for manslaughter had more than one charge of this offence. Therefore, sentencing for all charges of manslaughter was identical to sentencing for the principal sentence of manslaughter.

Returning to principal sentences of imprisonment, as shown in Figure 6, the average length of imprisonment term imposed on people sentenced for manslaughter ranged from 7 years and 3 months in 2010-11 to 8 years and 1 month in 2008-09 and 2009-10.

Figure 6: The average length of imprisonment term imposed on people sentenced for manslaughter, 2007-08 to 2011-12

Financial year Average length of imprisonment
2007-08 8 years
2008-09 8 years, 1 month
2009-10 8 years, 1 month
2010-11 7 years, 3 months
2011-12 7 years, 5 months

From 2007-08 to 2011-12, the majority of people who received a term of imprisonment for manslaughter were men (75 people or 87.2%). Over the five-year period, men received a longer average term of imprisonment (7 years and 10 months compared with 6 years and 8 months for women).

Figure 7 shows that average terms of imprisonment for men ranged from 7 years and 3 months in 2010-11 to 8 years and 9 months in 2009-10, while average terms for women ranged from 5 years and 4 months in 2009-10 to 8 years in 2007-08.

Figure 7: The average period of imprisonment imposed on people sentenced for manslaughter by gender, 2007-08 to 2011-12

  Gender  
Financial year Male Female
2007-08 8 years 8 years
2008-09 8 years, 4 months 7 years
2009-10 8 years, 9 months 5 years, 4 months
2010-11 7 years, 3 months 7 years
2011-12 7 years, 6 months 7 years

Other offences finalised at the same hearing

Sometimes people prosecuted for manslaughter face multiple charges, which are finalised at the same hearing. This section looks at the range of offences for which offenders have been sentenced at the same time as being sentenced for the principal offence of manslaughter.

Figure 8 shows the number of people sentenced for the principal offence of manslaughter by the total number of offences for which sentences were set. The number of sentenced offences per person ranged from 1 to 8, while the median was 1 offence. There were 73 people (75.3%) sentenced for the single offence of manslaughter. The average number of offences per person sentenced for manslaughter was 1.58.

Figure 8: The number of people sentenced for the principal offence of manslaughter by the number of sentenced offences per person, 2007-08 to 2011-12

Number of offences Number of people
1 73
2 9
3 10
4 0
5 or more 5

While Figure 8 presents the number of sentenced offences for those sentenced for manslaughter, Table 3 shows what the accompanying offences were. It shows the number and percentage of people sentenced for the 10 most common offences. The last column sets out the average number of offences sentenced per person. For example, 13 of the total 97 people (13.4%) also received sentences for affray. On average, they were sentenced for one count of affray.

Table 3: The number and percentage of people sentenced for the principal offence of manslaughter by the most common offences that were sentenced and the average number of those offences that were sentenced, 2007-08 to 2011-12

  Offence No. % Avg.
1 Manslaughter 97 100.0 1.00
2 Affray 13 13.4 1.00
3 Causing serious injury recklessly 6 6.2 1.00
4 Causing injury recklessly 5 5.2 1.40
5 Causing serious injury intentionally 5 5.2 1.00
6 Causing injury intentionally 4 4.1 2.50
7 Robbery 2 2.1 1.50
8 Drug trafficking in a non-commercial quantity 1 1.0 3.00
9 Prohibited person possessing a firearm 1 1.0 2.00
10 Conceal property suspected of then being proceeds of crime 1 1.0 1.00
  People sentenced 97 100.0 1.58

Total effective sentence of imprisonment

There were 86 people given a total effective sentence of imprisonment.[12] Figure 9 shows the number of people sentenced to imprisonment for manslaughter between 2007-08 and 2011-12 by length of total effective sentence. The length of total effective sentences ranged from 3 years and 6 months to 14 years, while the median total effective length of imprisonment was 8 years (meaning that half of the total effective sentence lengths were below 8 years and half were above).

The most common total effective imprisonment lengths were 6 years to less than 7 years and 10 years to less than 11 years (14 people each).

Figure 9: The number of people sentenced to imprisonment for manslaughter by length of total effective imprisonment term, 2007-08 to 2011-12

Total effective imprisonment length Number of people
3 to less than 4 years 2
4 to less than 5 years 5
5 to less than 6 years 7
6 to less than 7 years 14
7 to less than 8 years 13
8 to less than 9 years 9
9 to less than 10 years 11
10 to less than 11 years 14
11 to less than 12 years 7
12 to less than 13 years 2
13 to less than 14 years 1
14 to less than 15 years 1

Non-parole period

When a person is sentenced to a term of immediate imprisonment of one year or more, the court has the discretion to fix a non-parole period. Where a non-parole period is fixed, the person must serve that period before becoming eligible for parole. Where no non-parole period is set by the court, the person must serve the entirety of the imprisonment term.

Under section 11(4) of the Sentencing Act 1991 (Vic), if a court sentences an offender to imprisonment in respect of more than one offence, the non-parole period set by the court must be in respect of the total effective sentence of imprisonment that the offender is liable to serve under all the sentences imposed. In many cases, the non-parole period will be longer than the individual principal sentence for manslaughter. Sentences and non-parole periods must be considered in this broader context.

Of the 86 people who were sentenced to imprisonment for manslaughter, all were given a non-parole period. Figure 10 shows the number of people sentenced to imprisonment for manslaughter between 2007-08 and 2011-12 by length of non-parole period. Non-parole periods ranged from 1 year and 6 months to 10 years, while the median length of the non-parole period was 5 years (meaning that half of the non-parole periods were below 5 years and half were above).

The most common non-parole period imposed was 6 years to less than 7 years (15 people).

Figure 10: The number of people sentenced to imprisonment for manslaughter by length of non-parole period, 2007-08 to 2011-12

Non-parole period Number of people
1 to less than 2 years 2
2 to less than 3 years 5
3 to less than 4 years 14
4 to less than 5 years 14
5 to less than 6 years 13
6 to less than 7 years 15
7 to less than 8 years 12
8 to less than 9 years 8
9 to less than 10 years 1
10 to less than 11 years 2

Total effective sentences of imprisonment and non-parole periods

Figure 11 presents the average length of total effective sentences of imprisonment compared with the average length of non-parole periods for all people from 2007-08 to 2011-12.

From 2007-08 to 2011-12, the average length of total effective sentences for all people ranged from 7 years and 5 months in 2011-12 to 8 years and 6 months in 2009-10. Over the same period, the average length of non-parole periods ranged from 4 years and 10 months in 2011-12 to 5 years and 6 months in 2008-09.

Figure 11: The average total effective sentence and the average non-parole period imposed on people sentenced to imprisonment for manslaughter, 2007-08 to 2011-12

Financial year Total effective sentence length Non-parole period
2007-08 8 years, 1 month 5 years, 5 months
2008-09 8 years, 3 months 5 years, 6 months
2009-10 8 years, 6 months 5 years, 4 months
2010-11 7 years, 7 months 5 years
2011-12 7 years, 5 months 4 years, 10 months

Total effective sentence of imprisonment by non-parole period

While Figures 9 and 10 present the lengths of the total effective sentences and non-parole periods separately, Figure 12 combines the two methods of describing sentence lengths in the one diagram. It shows the total effective sentence and non-parole period for manslaughter for each individual person.

The centre of each 'bubble' on the chart represents a combination of imprisonment length and non-parole period, while the size of the bubble reflects the number of people who received that particular combination. Sentence lengths and non-parole periods that are longer than one year are rounded down to the nearest year of imprisonment, while sentence lengths and non-parole periods of less than one year are grouped into the '<1 year' category. For example, a sentence length of 2 years and 6 months would be included as a sentence length of 2 years for the purposes of Figure 12.

As shown, the most common combination of imprisonment length and non-parole period imposed was 10 years with a non-parole period of 7 years (9 people - as represented by the largest bubble on the chart). The length of imprisonment ranged from 3 years and 6 months with a non-parole period of 1 year and 6 months to 14 years with a non-parole period of 10 years.

Figure 12: The number of people sentenced to imprisonment for manslaughter by the total effective sentence and the non-parole period imposed, 2007-08 to 2011-12

Total effective sentence (years) Non-parole period (years) Number of people
3 1 2
4 2 3
4 3 2
5 2 2
5 3 5
6 3 7
6 4 7
7 4 6
7 5 6
7 6 1
8 4 1
8 5 5
8 6 2
8 8 1
9 5 2
9 6 8
9 7 1
10 6 4
10 7 9
10 8 1
11 7 2
11 8 5
12 8 1
12 9 1
13 10 1
14 10 1
Total number of people   86

Appeals

A sentence imposed on a person may be appealed[13] by that person or by the Crown. A person sentenced may also appeal against their conviction. All appeals made in relation to people sentenced in the higher courts are determined by the Court of Appeal.

Up to June 2012, no one sentenced for a principal offence of manslaughter in the period 2007-08 to 2011-12 had successfully appealed their conviction. Thus, the number of people sentenced from 2007-08 to 2011-12 for a principal offence of manslaughter remained at 97 once appeals are considered.

As a result of successful appeals against sentence, the total effective sentence and/or the non-parole period changed for 6 people. Three of these appeals were made by the person sentenced and resulted in a sentence reduction. The longest total effective imprisonment term to be reduced was a sentence of 10 years with a non-parole period of 7 years, which decreased to 8 years with a non-parole period of 5 years and 6 months.

There were 3 successful appeals made by the Crown, each resulting in an increase in sentence length. The longest total effective imprisonment term to increase was a sentence of 6 years with a non-parole period of 4 years, which increased to 9 years' imprisonment with a non-parole period of 7 years on appeal.

The principal sentence changed for 6 people as a result of a successful appeal. The longest principal sentence of imprisonment reduced was 10 years, which decreased to 8 years and 6 months on appeal. The longest principal sentence to increase was 6 years, which increased to 9 years after a successful Crown appeal.

With the original sentencing data revised to incorporate appeal outcomes, the adjusted longest total effective imprisonment term was unchanged at 14 years with a non-parole period of 10 years.

The adjusted longest principal sentence of imprisonment was also unchanged at 14 years.

Summary

Between 2007-08 and 2011-12, 97 people were sentenced for manslaughter in the higher courts. Over this period, the majority of people sentenced were men (88%), while 85% were aged between 18 and 44 years.

The majority of the people sentenced for manslaughter received a period of imprisonment (89%).

Men were more likely than women to be sentenced to a youth justice centre order. Conversely, women were more likely to be sentenced to a wholly suspended sentence of imprisonment.

Imprisonment was most common for people aged between 25 and 39 years.

Each of the 97 people was sentenced for an average of 1.58 offences, including 1.00 offences of manslaughter. The most common offence finalised in conjunction with manslaughter was affray (13.4% of all cases).

Total effective imprisonment lengths ranged from 3 years and 6 months with a non-parole period of 1 year and 6 months to 14 years with a non-parole period of 10 years. The most common sentence of imprisonment was 10 years with a non-parole period of 7 years.

A small number of people were able to successfully appeal against their sentences. When the results of the appeal outcomes are incorporated into the original sentencing data, the range of total effective imprisonment lengths and principal imprisonment sentence lengths remains unchanged.

Endnotes

[1] This series of reports includes custodial and non-custodial supervision orders imposed under Part 5 of the Crimes (Mental Impairment and Unfitness to be Tried) Act 1997 (Vic) as sentencing orders and in the count of people sentenced. These orders are not sentencing orders, as they are imposed in cases where the defendant is not guilty because of mental impairment. However, they are included in this report as they are an important form of disposition of criminal charges.

This Sentencing Snapshot is an update of Sentencing Snapshot no. 110, which describes sentencing trends for manslaughter between 2005-06 and 2009-10.

[2] The information source for sentencing outcomes for manslaughter only contains information on age and gender characteristics. No other demographic analysis is possible using this data source.

[3] The source data for the statistical information presented in this Snapshot were provided by the Business Intelligence area of the Courts and Tribunals unit within the Department of Justice (Vic). The Sentencing Advisory Council regularly undertakes extensive quality control measures for current and historical data. While every effort is made to ensure that the data analysed in this report are accurate, the data are subject to revision.

[4] Deaths caused by the culpable driving of a motor vehicle are not covered by the offence of manslaughter.

[5] Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) s 5.

[6] The value of a penalty unit changes each year and can be found in the Victorian Government Gazette and on the Office of the Chief Parliamentary Counsel website (link to external site opens in a new window).

[7] If a person is sentenced for a single offence, that offence is the principal offence, but if a person is sentenced for more than one offence in a single case, the principal offence is the offence that attracted the most serious sentence according to the sentencing hierarchy.

[8] Immediate custodial sentence includes imprisonment and youth justice centre order.

[9] Age is at the time of sentencing.

[10] Defendants who were under the age of 18 at the time of committing the alleged offence and who were not 19 years or older at the time proceedings commenced usually have their cases dealt with in the Children's Court of Victoria. However, the Children's Court is not able to hear any cases involving manslaughter.

[11] Refer to endnote 7.

[12] All of the 86 people who were sentenced to imprisonment as the principal sentence were also given imprisonment as the total effective sentence.

[13] Appeals data were collected by the Sentencing Advisory Council from transcripts of sentencing remarks of criminal appeals on the Australasian Legal Information Institute's website (external link opens in a new window).