Sentencing Trends for Trafficking in a Non-Commercial Quantity of Drugs in the Higher Courts of Victoria 2008-09 to 2012-13

Sentencing Snapshot 161
Date of Publication: 
29 August 2014

Sentencing Snapshot no. 161 describes sentencing outcomes for the offence of trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs in the County Court of Victoria between 2008–09 and 2012–13.

The most recent Sentencing Snapshot for this offence is Snapshot no. 218.

You can also access statistics for this offence on SACStat.

Authored and published by the Sentencing Advisory Council
© Copyright State of Victoria, Sentencing Advisory Council, 2014

Introduction

This Sentencing Snapshot describes sentencing outcomes[1] for the offence of trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs and details the age and gender[2] of people sentenced for this offence in the County Court of Victoria between 2008–09 and 2012–13.[3] Except where otherwise noted, the data represent sentences imposed at first instance.

The Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981 (Vic) provides a set of trafficking offences that distinguishes between large commercial, commercial, and less than commercial quantities of illicit drugs.[4]

A person who prepares, manufactures, sells, exchanges, agrees to sell, offers for sale, or has in his or her possession for sale a drug of dependence without being authorised or licensed to do so is guilty of trafficking in a drug of dependence.[5]  The maximum penalties that apply vary depending on the nature and quantity of the drug involved, as well as the age of the recipient of the drugs, with higher maximum penalties for supplying to persons aged under 18 years.

This report examines the offence of trafficking in a drug of dependence to an adult where amounts smaller than a commercial quantity are involved.  This is an indictable offence that carries a maximum penalty of 15 years’ imprisonment and/or a fine of up to 1,800 penalty units.[6]  Indictable offences are more serious offences triable before a judge and jury in the County or Supreme Court. Trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs can also be heard summarily in the Magistrates’ Court provided that the offending involves a quantity of drugs below a certain amount,[7] the Magistrates’ Court considers it appropriate, and the defendant consents.[8]

Trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs was the principal offence[9] in 5.4% of cases sentenced in the higher courts between 2008–09 and 2012–13.

People Sentenced

From 2008–09 to 2012–13, 522 people were sentenced in the higher courts for a principal offence of trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs. These people are the focus of this Snapshot. Sufficient information was not available to determine the number of people who were sentenced for trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs in instances where another offence was the principal offence.

Figure 1 shows the number of people sentenced for the principal offence of trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs by gender. Over the five years depicted, the majority of those sentenced were men (89.5% or 467 of the 522 people), including 50 of the 58 people sentenced in 2012–13.

Figure 1: The number of people sentenced for trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs by gender, 2008–09 to 2012–13

  Gender    
Financial year Male Female Total
2008–09 104 16 120
2009–10 124 16 140
2010–11 95 7 102
2011–12 94 8 102
2012–13 50 8 58
Total 467 55 522

Sentence Types and Trends

Figure 2 shows the total number of people sentenced for trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs 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.[10]  Over the five-year period, 61.7% of people were given an immediate custodial sentence.  This peaked at 63.7% in 2010–11 before a low of 57.8% (59 of 102) in 2011–12.

Figure 2: The number of people sentenced for trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs and the number who received an immediate custodial sentence, 2008–09 to 2012–13

Financial year Immediate custodial sentence Non-custodial sentence People sentenced
2008–09 76 44 120
2009–10 87 53 140
2010–11 65 37 102
2011–12 59 43 102
2012–13 35 23 58
Total 322 200 522

Table 1 shows the number of people sentenced for trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs from 2008–09 to 2012–13 by the types of sentences imposed.

Over the five-year period, around half of the people sentenced for trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs received a period of imprisonment (49% or 256 of 522 people), while 33% received a wholly suspended sentence[11] of imprisonment and 12% received a partially suspended sentence of imprisonment.

The number of people receiving a sentence of imprisonment was lowest during 2012–13 (28 people) and highest during 2009–10 (66 people). The percentage of people receiving imprisonment was lowest during 2011–12 (44 of 102 people or 43%) and highest during 2010–11 (56 of 102 people or 55%).

The number and percentage of people receiving a wholly suspended sentence of imprisonment were lowest during 2012–13 (16 of 58 people or 28%). The number of people was highest during 2009–10 (49 people), while the percentage was highest during 2011–12 (39 of 102 people or 38%).

The number of people receiving a partially suspended sentence was lowest during 2012–13 (6 people) and highest during 2009–10 (19 people). The percentage of people receiving a partially suspended sentence was lowest during 2010–11 (9 of 102 people or 9%) and highest during 2011–12 (15 of 102 people or 15%).

Table 1: The number and percentage of people sentenced for trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs by sentence type, 2008–09 to 2012–13

Sentence type 2008–09 2009–10 2010–11 2011–12 2012–13 Total
Imprisonment 62 (52%) 66 (47%) 56 (55%) 44 (43%) 28 (48%) 256 (49%)
Wholly suspended sentence 35 (29%) 49 (35%) 32 (31%) 39 (38%) 16 (28%) 171 (33%)
Partially suspended sentence 14 (12%) 19 (14%) 9 (9%) 15 (15%) 6 (10%) 63 (12%)
Community-based order 4 (3%) 2 (1%) 1 (<1%) 3 (3%) 0 (–) 10 (2%)
Community correction order 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (<1%) 7 (12%) 8 (2%)
Intensive correction order 3 (3%) 1 (<1%) 2 (2%) 0 (–) 0 (–) 6 (1%)
Aggregate imprisonment 0 (–) 1 (<1%) 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (2%) 2 (<1%)
Mix (imprisonment and fine) 0 (–) 1 (<1%) 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (<1%)
Fine 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (<1%) 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (<1%)
Aggregate wholly suspended sentence 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (<1%) 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (<1%)
Aggregate community-based order 0 (–) 1 (<1%) 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (<1%)
Adjourned undertaking without conviction 1 (<1%) 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (<1%)
Adjourned undertaking with conviction 1 (<1%) 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (<1%)
People sentenced 120 140 102 102 58 522

Age and Gender of People Sentenced

Figure 3 shows the gender of people sentenced for trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs grouped by age[12] between 2008–09 and 2012–13.  The average age of people sentenced for trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs was 36 years and 7 months.  Women sentenced over this period were slightly older than men (an average age of 36 years and 10 months for women compared with 36 years and 7 months for men).  There were no juveniles sentenced over this period.[13]

Figure 3: The number of people sentenced for trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs by gender and age, 2008–09 to 2012–13

  Gender  
Age category (years) Male Female
18 to 19 1 0
20 to 24 44 5
25 to 29 85 9
30 to 34 75 6
35 to 39 91 12
40 to 44 74 12
45 to 49 48 6
50 to 54 23 3
55 or older 26 2
Total 467 55

Sentence Types by Gender

Table 2 shows the types of sentences imposed for trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs grouped by gender.  As shown, a higher percentage of men received a period of imprisonment (51% compared with 31% of women) or a partially suspended sentence of imprisonment (12% compared with 9% of women).  Conversely, a higher percentage of women received a wholly suspended sentence of imprisonment (49% compared with 31% of men), a community-based order (5% compared with 1% of men), or a community correction order (4% compared with 1% of men).

Table 2: The number and percentage of people sentenced for trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs by sentence type and gender, 2008–09 to 2012–13

Sentence type Male Female
Imprisonment 239 (51%) 17 (31%)
Wholly suspended sentence 144 (31%) 27 (49%)
Partially suspended sentence 58 (12%) 5 (9%)
Community-based order 7 (1%) 3 (5%)
Community correction order 6 (1%) 2 (4%)
Intensive correction order 5 (1%) 1 (2%)
Aggregate imprisonment 2 (<1%) 0 (–)
Mix (imprisonment and fine) 1 (<1%) 0 (–)
Fine 1 (<1%) 0 (–)
Aggregate wholly suspended sentence 1 (<1%) 0 (–)
Aggregate community-based order 1 (<1%) 0 (–)
Adjourned undertaking without conviction 1 (<1%) 0 (–)
Adjourned undertaking with conviction 1 (<1%) 0 (–)
People sentenced 467 55

Sentence Types by Age

As shown in Table 1, the three most common sentence types were imprisonment, wholly suspended sentences of imprisonment, and partially suspended sentences of imprisonment.  The following analysis examines these sentence types by the offender’s age group.

Imprisonment

As shown in Figure 4, sentences of imprisonment were most likely to be given to people aged 50–54 years (69% or 18 of the 26 people in this age group).

Conversely, sentences of imprisonment were least common for those aged under 25 years (34% or 17 of the 50 people in this age group).

Figure 4: The percentage of people who received a period of imprisonment for trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs by age group, 2008–09 to 2012–13

Age group (years) Percentage of age group
Younger than 25 years (n = 50) 34.0
25 to 29 (n = 94) 43.6
30 to 34 (n = 81) 46.9
35 to 39 (n = 103) 51.5
40 to 44 (n = 86) 48.8
45 to 49 (n = 54) 59.3
50 to 54 (n = 26) 69.2
55 or older (n = 28) 53.6

Wholly Suspended Sentences of Imprisonment

As shown in Figure 5, wholly suspended sentences of imprisonment were most likely to be given to people aged younger than 25 years (40% or 20 of the 50 people in this age group) followed closely by people aged between 30 and 34 (39.5% or 32 of the 81 people in this age group).

Conversely, wholly suspended sentences of imprisonment were least common for people aged between 50 and 54 years (23% or 6 of the 26 people in this age group).

Figure 5: The percentage of people who received a wholly suspended sentence of imprisonment for trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs by age group, 2008–09 to 2012–13

Age group (years) Percentage of age group
Younger than 25 years (n = 50) 40.0
25 to 29 (n = 94) 38.3
30 to 34 (n = 81) 39.5
35 to 39 (n = 103) 27.2
40 to 44 (n = 86) 30.2
45 to 49 (n = 54) 25.9
50 to 54 (n = 26) 23.1
55 or older (n = 28) 32.1

Partially Suspended Sentences of Imprisonment

As shown in Figure 6, partially suspended sentences of imprisonment were most likely to be given to people aged between 40 and 44 years (17% or 15 of the 86 people in this age group).

Conversely, partially suspended sentences of imprisonment were least common for people aged 45 to 49 (7% or 4 of the 54 people in this age group).

Figure 6: The percentage of people who received a partially suspended sentence of imprisonment for trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs by age group, 2008–09 to 2012–13

Age group (years) Percentage of age group
Younger than 25 years (n = 50) 10.0
25 to 29 (n = 94) 8.5
30 to 34 (n = 81) 12.3
35 to 39 (n = 103) 14.6
40 to 44 (n = 86) 17.4
45 to 49 (n = 54) 7.4
50 to 54 (n = 26) 7.7
55 or older (n = 28) 14.3

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.[14]

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 individual principal sentence.  Principal sentences for trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs must be considered in this broader context.  The following sections analyse the use of imprisonment for trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs from 2008–09 to 2012–13.

Principal Sentence of Imprisonment

A total of 257 people received a principal sentence of imprisonment for trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs between 2008–09 and 2012–13.

Figure 7 shows the number of people sentenced to imprisonment for trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs between 2008–09 and 2012–13 by the length of the imprisonment term.[15]  Imprisonment terms ranged from 3 months to 10 years[16] (8 years and 6 months after appeals are taken into account), while the median length of imprisonment was 2 years and 6 months (meaning that half of the imprisonment terms were shorter than 2 years and 6 months and half were longer).

The most common range of imprisonment length was 2 years to less than 3 years (91 people).

Figure 7: The number of people sentenced to imprisonment for trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs by length of imprisonment term, 2008–09 to 2012–13

Imprisonment length Number
Less than 1 year 12
1 to less than 2 years 64
2 to less than 3 years 91
3 to less than 4 years 56
4 to less than 5 years 19
5 to less than 6 years 6
6 to less than 7 years 6
7 to less than 8 years 1
8 to less than 9 years 1
9 to less than 10 years 0
10 to less than 11 years 1

As shown in Figure 8, the average (mean) length of imprisonment term imposed on people sentenced for trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs ranged from 2 years and 4 months in 2011–12 and 2012–13 to 2 years and 8 months in 2009–10.

Figure 8: The average length of imprisonment term imposed on people sentenced for trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs, 2008–09 to 2012–13

Year of sentencing Average length of imprisonment
2008–09 (n = 62) 2 years, 7 months
2009–10 (n = 67) 2 years, 8 months
2010–11 (n = 56) 2 years, 5 months
2011–12 (n = 44) 2 years, 4 months
2012–13 (n = 28) 2 years, 4 months

From 2008–09 to 2012–13, the majority of people who received a term of imprisonment for trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs were men (240 people or 93.4%).  Figure 9 shows that over the five-year period, the average length of imprisonment for men ranged from 2 years and 4 months in 2011–12 and 2012–13 to 2 years and 9 months in 2009–10. The average length of imprisonment for women ranged from 2 years in 2009–10 (when 5 women received an imprisonment term) to 3 years and 3 months in 2011–12 (when 2 women received an imprisonment term).

Figure 9: The average period of imprisonment imposed on people sentenced for trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs by gender, 2008–09 to 2012–13

  Gender  
Year of sentencing Male Female
2008–09 2 years, 7 months 2 years, 9 months
2009–10 2 years, 9 months 2 years
2010–11 2 years, 5 months 2 years, 6 months
2011–12 2 years, 4 months 3 years, 3 months
2012–13 2 years, 4 months 2 years, 5 months

Other Offences Finalised at the Same Hearing

Often people prosecuted for trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs 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 trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs.

Figure 10 shows the number of people sentenced for the principal offence of trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs by the total number of offences for which sentences were set.  The number of sentenced offences per person ranged from 1 to 26, while the median was 2 offences.  There were 141 people (27.0%) sentenced for the single offence of trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs.  The average (mean) number of offences per person sentenced for trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs was 3.21.

Figure 10: The number of people sentenced for the principal offence of trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs by the number of sentenced offences per person, 2008–09 to 2012–13

Number of proven offences Number of people
1 141
2 127
3 88
4 71
5 to 9 75
10 or more 20

While Figure 10 presents the number of sentenced offences for those sentenced for trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs, 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, 187 of the total 522 people (35.8%) also received sentences for possessing a drug of dependence.  On average, they were sentenced for 1.71 counts of possess a drug of dependence.

Table 3: The number and percentage of people sentenced for the principal offence of trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs by the most common offences that were sentenced and the average number of those offences that were sentenced, 2008–09 to 2012–13

  Offence Number % Average
1 Trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs 522 100.0 1.55*
2 Possess a drug of dependence 187 35.8 1.71
3 Deal with property suspected of being proceeds of crime 58 11.1 1.38
4 Handling stolen goods 26 5.0 1.23
5 Theft 25 4.8 1.32
6 Possess prohibited weapon without exemption 22 4.2 1.50
7 Knowingly deal with proceeds of crime 20 3.8 1.05
8 Possess document/equipment for trafficking in a drug of dependence 20 3.8 1.05
9 Prohibited person possess unregistered firearm 12 2.3 1.25
10 Cultivate a narcotic plant 12 2.3 1.08*
  People sentenced 522 100.0 3.21

*May contain offences of drug trafficking and cultivation of varying quantities (non-commercial, commercial, or large commercial).

Total Effective Sentence of Imprisonment

There were 258 people given a total effective sentence of imprisonment.[17]  Figure 11 shows the number of people sentenced to imprisonment for trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs between 2008–09 and 2012–13 by the length of total effective sentence.  The length of total effective sentences ranged from 3 months to 10 years (8 years and 6 months after appeals are taken into account), while the median total effective length of imprisonment was 2 years and 9 months (meaning that half of the total effective sentence lengths were below 2 years and 9 months and half were above).

The most common range of total effective imprisonment length was 2 years to less than 3 years (81 people).

Figure 11: The number of people sentenced to imprisonment for trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs by length of total effective imprisonment term, 2008–09 to 2012–13

Total effective imprisonment length Number of people
Less than 1 year 11
1 to less than 2 years 40
2 to less than 3 years 81
3 to less than 4 years 67
4 to less than 5 years 34
5 to less than 6 years 13
6 to less than 7 years 7
7 to less than 8 years 3
8 to less than 9 years 0
9 to less than 10 years 0
10 to less than 11 years 2

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 trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs.  Sentences and non-parole periods must be considered in this broader context.

Of the 258 people who were sentenced to imprisonment for trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs, 247 were eligible to have a non-parole period fixed.[18]  Of these people, 231 were given a non-parole period (93.5%).[19]  Figure 12 shows the number of people sentenced to imprisonment for trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs between 2008–09 and 2012–13 by length of non-parole period.  Non-parole periods ranged from 3 months to 8 years (6 years after appeals are taken into account), while the median length of the non-parole period was 1 year and 6 months (meaning that half of the non-parole periods were below 1 year and 6 months and half were above).

The most common range of non-parole periods imposed was 1 year to less than 2 years (110 people).

Figure 12: The number of people sentenced to imprisonment for trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs by length of non-parole period, 2008–09 to 2012–13

Non-parole period length Number of people
Less than 1 year 33
1 to less than 2 years 110
2 to less than 3 years 59
3 to less than 4 years 19
4 to less than 5 years 7
5 to less than 6 years 1
6 to less than 7 years 0
7 to less than 8 years 1
8 to less than 9 years 1
No non-parole period 15

Total Effective Sentences of Imprisonment and Non-Parole Periods

Figures 13 to 15 present the average (mean) length of total effective sentences of imprisonment compared with the average length of non-parole periods for all people (Figure 13), for men (Figure 14) and for women (Figure 15) from 2008–09 to 2012–13.

From 2008–09 to 2012–13, the average length of total effective sentences for all people ranged from 2 years and 8 months in 2012–13 to 3 years and 2 months in 2009–10.  Over the same period, the average length of non-parole periods ranged from 1 year and 6 months in 2012–13 to 1 year and 11 months in 2009–10.

Figure 13: The average total effective sentence and the average non-parole period imposed on people sentenced to imprisonment for trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs, 2008–09 to 2012–13

Year of sentencing Average TES length Average non-parole period
2008–09 2 years, 11 months 1 year, 10 months
2009–10 3 years, 2 months 1 year, 11 months
2010–11 2 years, 11 months 1 year, 8 months
2011–12 2 years, 9 months 1 year, 7 months
2012–13 2 years, 8 months 1 year, 6 months

From 2008–09 to 2012–13, the average length of total effective sentences for men ranged from 2 years and 8 months in 2012–13 to 3 years and 3 months in 2009–10.  Over the same period, the average length of non-parole periods for men ranged from 1 year and 6 months in 2011–12 and 2012–13 to 1 year and 11 months in 2009–10.

Figure 14: The average total effective sentence and the average non-parole period imposed on men sentenced to imprisonment for trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs, 2008–09 to 2012–13

Year of sentencing Average TES length Average non-parole period
2008–09 2 years, 11 months 1 year, 9 months
2009–10 3 years, 3 months 1 year, 11 months
2010–11 2 years, 11 months 1 year, 8 months
2011–12 2 years, 9 months 1 year, 6 months
2012–13 2 years, 8 months 1 year, 6 months

The average length of total effective sentences for women ranged from 2 years and 2 months in 2009–10 to 3 years and 3 months in 2011–12.  Over the same period, the average length of non-parole periods for women ranged from 1 year and 4 months in 2012–13 to 1 year and 11 months in 2008–09.

Figure 15: The average total effective sentence and the average non-parole period imposed on women sentenced to imprisonment for trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs, 2008–09 to 2012–13

Year of sentencing Average TES length Average non-parole period
2008–09 2 years, 11 months 1 year, 11 months
2009–10 2 years, 2 months 1 year, 10 months
2010–11 3 years, 2 months 1 year, 9 months
2011–12 3 years, 3 months 1 year, 10 months
2012–13 2 years, 10 months 1 year, 4 months

Total Effective Sentence of Imprisonment by Non-Parole Period

While Figures 11 and 12 present the lengths of the total effective sentences and non-parole periods separately, Figure 16 combines the two methods of describing sentence lengths in the one diagram.  It shows the total effective sentence and non-parole period for trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs 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 16.

As shown, the most common combination of imprisonment length and non-parole period imposed was 2 years with a non-parole period of 1 year (67 people – as represented by the largest ‘bubble’ on the chart).  The length of imprisonment ranged from 3 months with no non-parole period to 10 years with a non-parole period of 8 years. After appeals are taken into account, the longest combination of imprisonment and non-parole period is 8 years and 6 months’ imprisonment with a non-parole period of 6 years.

Figure 16: The number of people sentenced to imprisonment for trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs by the total effective sentence and the non-parole period imposed, 2008–09 to 2012–13

Total effective sentence length category Non-parole period category Total
Less than 1 year No non-parole period 8
1 to less than 2 years No non-parole period 4
1 to less than 2 years Less than 1 year 24
1 to less than 2 years 1 to less than 2 years 9
2 to less than 3 years No non-parole period 2
2 to less than 3 years Less than 1 year 7
2 to less than 3 years 1 to less than 2 years 67
2 to less than 3 years 2 to less than 3 years 1
3 to less than 4 years No non-parole period 1
3 to less than 4 years Less than 1 year 2
3 to less than 4 years 1 to less than 2 years 31
3 to less than 4 years 2 to less than 3 years 32
3 to less than 4 years 3 to less than 4 years 1
4 to less than 5 years 1 to less than 2 years 2
4 to less than 5 years 2 to less than 3 years 23
4 to less than 5 years 3 to less than 4 years 8
5 to less than 6 years 1 to less than 2 years 1
5 to less than 6 years 2 to less than 3 years 3
5 to less than 6 years 3 to less than 4 years 9
6 to less than 7 years 3 to less than 4 years 1
6 to less than 7 years 4 to less than 5 years 5
7 to less than 8 years 4 to less than 5 years 2
7 to less than 8 years 5 to less than 6 years 1
10 to less than 11 years 7 to less than 8 years 1
10 to less than 11 years 8 to less than 9 years 1
People sentenced   246

Note: No NPP refers to no non-parole period.

Suspended Sentences of Imprisonment

There were 236 people given a suspended sentence of imprisonment as their total effective sentence.  Of these, 172 people had their prison sentence wholly suspended and 64 received a partially suspended sentence of imprisonment.  Figure 17 shows the number of people with a suspended sentence of imprisonment as their total effective sentence by the suspended sentence type and length of sentence.  The green ‘bubbles’ to the left of the vertical axis show the lengths of the wholly suspended sentences, while the grey ‘bubbles’ to the right of the vertical axis show the combination of total imprisonment length and the suspended period for those sentenced to a partially suspended sentence.  The size of the bubble reflects the number of people who received either the wholly or the partially suspended prison term. Imprisonment lengths and suspended periods that end part way through a month are rounded down to the nearest complete month. For example, a wholly suspended sentence of 6 months and 12 days would be included as a sentence length of 6 months for the purposes of Figure 17.

Wholly suspended sentence lengths ranged from 3 months to 3 years.  The most common wholly suspended sentence length was 1 year and 6 months (26 people – as represented by the largest green ‘bubble’ on the chart), although this was closely followed by lengths of 1 year (25 people) and 2 years (24 people).

Partially suspended sentences ranged from 6 months’ imprisonment with 2 months and 25 days suspended to 3 years’ imprisonment with 2 years, 9 months and 12 days suspended. The most common partially suspended sentence was 2 years’ imprisonment with 1 year and 6 months suspended and 3 years’ imprisonment with 2 years suspended (4 people each – as represented by the two largest grey ‘bubbles’ on the chart).

Figure 17: The number of people given a wholly or partially suspended sentence of imprisonment for trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs by sentence type and length, 2008–09 to 2012–13

Wholly suspended sentence length (months) Number of people
3 1
4 3
6 6
7 1
8 5
9 11
10 1
12 25
13 1
15 10
16 3
18 26
19 2
20 5
21 2
22 2
23 1
24 24
26 1
27 5
29 1
30 13
32 2
33 5
34 2
35 2
36 12
People sentenced 172

 

Imprisonment sentence length (months) Suspended period (months) Number of people
6 2 1
6 4 1
8 4 1
9 6 2
12 3 1
12 5 1
12 6 1
12 7 2
12 9 3
15 9 1
15 12 1
16 10 1
16 12 2
18 5 1
18 9 2
18 11 1
18 12 2
18 17 1
19 15 1
20 17 1
21 12 1
21 15 1
22 10 1
24 12 3
24 14 2
24 15 2
24 16 1
24 18 4
24 19 1
24 22 1
25 11 1
26 16 1
26 20 1
27 18 1
27 19 1
30 18 1
30 20 1
32 20 1
33 24 1
35 33 1
36 21 1
36 23 1
36 24 4
36 25 1
36 26 1
36 33 2
People sentenced   64

Community-Based Orders

There were 11 people given a community-based order as their total effective sentence.

The length of community-based orders for trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs ranged from 6 months to 2 years, while the most common length was 2 years (7 people).

Figure 18: The number of people sentenced to a community-based order for trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs by length of order imposed, 2008–09 to 2012–13

Length of community-based order Number of people (n = 11)
6 months 1
1 year 1
1 year and 6 months 2
2 years 7

Community Correction Orders

Community correction orders were introduced in early 2012 to replace community-based orders and intensive correction orders. A feature of community correction orders is that the sentence length of the order can be as high as the statutory maximum of the offence being sentenced.

From 2008–09 to 2012–13, 8 people were given a community correction order for the principal offence of trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs. The length of community correction orders ranged from 1 year to 3 years, while the most common lengths were 1 year and 2 years (2 people each).

Fines

This analysis includes all fines that were imposed for cases where trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs was the principal offence.  Fines were imposed on 114 people.

As shown in Figure 19, fine amounts ranged from $100 to $22,000, with a median of $500 (meaning that half of the values fell below $500 and half of the values were above $500).

The average (mean) fine amount was $1,051.  The average fine amount imposed against the 103 males was $1,113, higher than the average fine for the 11 females ($473).

Figure 19: The number of people who received a fine for trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs by fine amount, 2008–09 to 2012–13

Fine amount Number of people (n = 114)
$0 to $199 12
$200 to $399 30
$400 to $599 24
$600 to $799 13
$800 to $999 6
$1,000 to $1,199 9
$1,200 to $1,399 4
$1,400 to $1,599 4
$1,600 or more 12

Appeals

A sentence imposed on a person may be appealed[20] 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.

To June 2013, 1 person sentenced for a principal offence of trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs in the period 2008–09 to 2012–13 had successfully appealed their conviction. This person originally received a total effective sentence of 9 months’ imprisonment but was acquitted on appeal. Thus, the number of people sentenced for a principal offence of trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs is reduced to 521 people once appeals are considered.

As a result of successful appeals against sentence, the total effective sentence and/or the non-parole period changed for 10 people, while the principal sentence length of imprisonment changed for 9 people. All these appeals were made by the person sentenced and resulted in a sentence reduction.

The largest sentence reduction in total effective sentence of imprisonment and principal sentence of imprisonment occurred for a single case. The case was originally given a total effective and principal sentence of 7 years with a non-parole period of 5 years. After a successful appeal, the total effective and principal sentence became 3 years and 6 months with a non-parole period of 2 years.

There were 4 additional appeals that resulted in a change to both the total effective sentence type and the principal sentence type. All these cases were originally sentenced to imprisonment but were changed to partially suspended sentences on appeal.

With the original sentencing data revised to incorporate appeal outcomes, the adjusted longest total effective and principal imprisonment term changed from 10 years with a non-parole period of 8 years to a reduced sentence of 8 years and 6 months’ imprisonment with a non-parole period of 6 years.

Summary

Between 2008–09 and 2012–13, 522 people were sentenced for trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs in the higher courts.  Over this period, the majority of people sentenced were men (89%), while 80% were aged between 25 and 49 years.

Around half of the people sentenced for trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs received a period of imprisonment (49%), while 33% received a wholly suspended sentence of imprisonment and 12% received a partially suspended sentence of imprisonment.

Men were more likely than women to be sentenced to a period of imprisonment.  Conversely, women were more likely to be sentenced to a wholly suspended sentence of imprisonment.

Imprisonment was most common for those aged between 50 and 54 years, wholly suspended sentences of imprisonment were more common for those younger than 35 years, and partially suspended sentences of imprisonment were most common for people aged between 40 and 44 years.

Each of the 522 people was sentenced for an average (mean) of 3.21 offences, including 1.55 offences of trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs.  The most common offence finalised in conjunction with trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs was possessing a drug of dependence (35.8% of all cases).  The number and range of offences for which people with a principal offence of trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs were sentenced help explain why imprisonment sentence lengths were longer for the total effective sentence than for the principal sentence.  The median total effective imprisonment length was 2 years and 9 months, while the median principal imprisonment length was 2 years and 6 months.

Total effective imprisonment lengths ranged from 3 months with no non-parole period to 10 years with a non-parole period of 8 years.  The most common sentence of imprisonment was 2 years with a non-parole period of 1 year.

The most common partially suspended sentence length was 2 years’ imprisonment with 1 year and 6 months suspended, or 3 years’ imprisonment with 2 years suspended. The most common wholly suspended sentence length was 1 year and 6 months.

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 longest total effective imprisonment term changed from 10 years with a non-parole period of 8 years to 8 years and 6 months’ imprisonment with a non-parole period of 6 years. The longest principal sentence of imprisonment changed from 10 years’ imprisonment to 8 years and 6 months’ imprisonment.

Endnotes

[1] This report presents sentencing outcomes for people sentenced for the principal offence of trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs in the County Court of Victoria.  The principal offence describes the offence proven that attracted the most serious sentence according to the sentencing hierarchy.  The analysis therefore excludes people sentenced for trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs who received a more serious sentence for another offence forming part of the same presentment or indictment. Trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs was the principal proven offence for 522 people sentenced in the County Court of Victoria from 2008–09 to 2012–13.

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. 129, which describes sentencing trends for trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs between 2006–07 and 2010–11.

[2] The information source for sentencing outcomes for trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs 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.

The sentencing database used for this analysis was compiled using conviction returns.  Due to incomplete offence information regarding drug trafficking offences on the conviction returns, a further classification exercise was undertaken to determine the specific offence types.  This involved reading the sentencing remarks of the particular cases and determining if the quantity of the drug was non-commercial, commercial, or large commercial.  In total, there were 751 cases that had drug trafficking (section 71, 71AA, 71AB or 71AC of the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981 (Vic)) as the principal proven offence over the five-year period from 2008–09 to 2012–13.  Sentencing remarks were located for 660 cases (87.9%).  The drug quantities for all these cases were checked and coded into the appropriate category. The remaining cases had sentences that were all within the statutory maximum penalty for the offence and were therefore assumed to have been recorded correctly in the first instance.

[4] Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981 (Vic) s 71AC.

[5] Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981 (Vic) ss 70, 71AC.

[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’s website (external link opens in a new window).

[7] Under Schedule 2(6) of the Criminal Procedure Act 2009 (Vic), offences of trafficking in a drug of dependence can be tried summarily by the Magistrates’ Court provided that the quantity of drugs is not considered to be commercial or large commercial. Prior to the Criminal Procedure Act 2009 (Vic) coming into effect, similar powers were granted under Schedule 4 of the Magistrates’ Court Act 1989 (Vic) allowing the Magistrates’ Court to hear this offence summarily.

[8] Criminal Procedure Act 2009 (Vic) s 29. Prior to the Criminal Procedure Act 2009 (Vic) coming into effect, section 53 of the Magistrates’ Court Act 1989 (Vic) provided similar powers to allow the Magistrates’ Court to hear this offence summarily.

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

[10] Immediate custodial sentence includes imprisonment, partially suspended sentence, aggregate imprisonment, and mix (imprisonment and fine).

[11] The County and Supreme Courts cannot make an order to wholly or partially suspend a period of imprisonment for any offences committed on or after 1 September 2013. Offences of trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs that were committed prior to this date may still be eligible for a wholly or partially suspended sentence.

[12] Age is at the time of sentencing.

[13] Some 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 may have been dealt with in the Children’s Court of Victoria.

[14] Refer to endnote 9.

[15] Data presented in this section do not include imprisonment lengths for people who received an aggregate sentence of imprisonment. Sentence lengths for aggregate sentences of imprisonment apply to the whole case, while Figure 7 only deals with sentences of imprisonment for the principal proven offence of trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs. During the 2008–09 to 2012–13 period, 2 people received an aggregate form of imprisonment.

[16] In 2008–09, a 47 year old man was given a sentence of 10 years for the principal charge of trafficking heroin. The judge commented that ‘[T]he trafficking for which you have been convicted is, albeit over a relatively short period, what can only be described as vigorous’. The judge further stated that the offender’s ‘prospects of rehabilitation must be regarded as dim and the prospects of your re-offending when you are released must be regarded as very problematic indeed’.

[17] Of the 257 people who were given a principal sentence of imprisonment, 256 were also given a total effective sentence of imprisonment.  There was 1 person who was given imprisonment as the principal sentence for trafficking in a non-commercial quantity of drugs and a partially suspended sentence as a total effective sentence. There were 2 additional people who received an aggregate sentence of imprisonment and who were also included in Figure 11.

[18] A total of 11 people were not eligible for parole because they were given a total effective sentence length of less than 1 year. Three of these people received a non-parole period; however, this was because they were also being sentenced to imprisonment for a separate case (see endnote 19).

[19] Twelve people, including 3 people who received a sentence of imprisonment for less than 1 year, were not given a non-parole period relating to that case alone, but a non-parole period that also related to other cases. It is not possible to isolate the length of the non-parole period that relates to these cases.  The non-parole periods for these people are excluded from the analysis.  A non-parole period was not set for 7 people who were eligible for a non-parole period.

[20] 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).