Sentencing Trends for Murder in the Higher Courts of Victoria 2009-10 to 2013-14

Sentencing Snapshot 171
Date of Publication: 
14 May 2015

Sentencing Snapshot no. 171 describes sentencing outcomes for the offence of murder in the Supreme Court of Victoria between 2009–10 and 2013–14.

The most recent Sentencing Snapshot for this offence is Snapshot no. 223.

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, 2015

Please note: the original version of this Snapshot contained data that have been corrected in the present version.

Please note: the original version of this Snapshot contained data that have been corrected in the present version.

Introduction

This Sentencing Snapshot describes sentencing outcomes[1] for the offence of murder in the Supreme Court of Victoria between 2009–10 and 2013–14.[2] Adjustments made by the Court of Appeal to sentence or conviction as at June 2014 have been incorporated into the data in this Snapshot.

Detailed data on murder and other offences are available on SACStat – Higher Courts.

The offence of murder applies to the most serious homicides – when a person intentionally or recklessly kills another or inflicts severe injury on another person who dies as a result.  Murder is an indictable offence that carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.[3]

Murder was the principal offence[4] in 1.3% of cases sentenced in the higher courts between 2009–10 and 2013–14.

People sentenced

From 2009–10 to 2013–14, 129 people were sentenced in the higher courts for a principal offence of murder.

Figure 1 shows the number of people sentenced for the principal offence of murder by financial year. There were 21 people sentenced for this offence in 2013–14, down by 7 people from the previous year.  The number of people sentenced was highest in 2010–11 and 2012–13 (28 people).

Figure 1: The number of people sentenced for murder by financial year, 2009–10 to 2013–14

Financial year Total
2009-10 25
2010-11 28
2011-12 27
2012-13 28
2013-14 21
Total 129

Sentence types and trends

Figure 2 shows the total number of people sentenced for murder and the number that 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.[5] Over the five-year period, 98% of people were given an immediate custodial sentence.

Figure 2: The number of people sentenced for murder and the number who received an immediate custodial sentence, 2009–10 to 2013–14

Financial year Custodial Non-Custodial Total
2009-10 25 0 25
2010-11 27 1 28
2011-12 26 1 27
2012-13 28 0 28
2013-14 21 0 21
Total 129 2 129

Table 1 shows the number of people sentenced for murder from 2009–10 to 2013–14 by the types of sentences imposed.

Over the five-year period, the majority of the people sentenced for murder received a period of imprisonment (88% or 114 of 129 people), while 10% received a custodial supervision order.

The number of people sentenced to imprisonment for murder was lowest in 2013–14 (18 people) and highest during 2011–12 (25 people). The percentage of people receiving imprisonment was lowest during 2010–11, 2012–13, and 2013–14 (86% for each of these years) and highest during 2011–12 (93% or 25 of 27 people).

The number and percentage of people sentenced to a custodial supervision order for murder were lowest during 2011–12 (1 person). The number of people receiving a custodial supervision order was highest during 2012–13 (4 people), while the percentage was highest during both 2012–13 and 2013–14 (14% for each of these years).

Table 1: The number and percentage of people sentenced for murder by sentence type, 2009–10 to 2013–14

Sentence type 2009–10 2010–11 2011–12 2012–13 2013–14 Total
Imprisonment 23 (92%) 24 (86%) 25 (93%) 24 (86%) 18 (86%) 114 (88%)
Custodial supervision order 2 (8%) 3 (11%) 1 (4%) 4 (14%) 3 (14%) 13 (10%)
Non-custodial supervision order 0 (–) 1 (4%) 1 (4%) 0 (–) 0 (–) 2 (2%)
People sentenced 25 28 27 28 21 129

Age and gender of people sentenced

Data on the age and gender of people sentenced for murder are available on SACStat – Higher Courts.

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.[6]

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 murder must be considered in this broader context. The following sections analyse the use of imprisonment for the offence of murder from 2009–10 to 2013–14.

Principal sentence of imprisonment

A total of 114 people received a principal sentence of imprisonment for murder between 2009–10 and 2013–14.

Figure 3 shows these people by the length of their imprisonment term. Imprisonment terms ranged from 9 years to life, while the median length for non-life sentences was 20 years (meaning that half of the non-life imprisonment terms were shorter than 20 years and half were longer).

The most common range of imprisonment length imposed was 20 years to less than 21 years (21 people).

Figure 3: The number of people sentenced to imprisonment for murder by length of imprisonment term, 2009–10 to 2013–14

Imprisonment length Number of people
9 years to less than 10 years 1
10 years to less than 11 years 0
11 years to less than 12 years 0
12 years to less than 13 years 0
13 years to less than 14 years 2
14 years to less than 15 years 4
15 years to less than 16 years 3
16 years to less than 17 years 6
17 years to less than 18 years 10
18 years to less than 19 years 13
19 years to less than 20 years 9
20 years to less than 21 years 21
21 years to less than 22 years 5
22 years to less than 23 years 5
23 years to less than 24 years 6
24 years to less than 25 years 6
25 years to less than 26 years 1
26 years to less than 27 years 5
27 years to less than 28 years 2
28 years to less than 29 years 2
Life 13
People sentenced 114

As shown in Figure 4, the average length of non-life imprisonment terms imposed on people sentenced for murder ranged from 18 years and 5 months in 2009–10 to 22 years and 1 month in 2013–14.

Figure 4: The average length of non-life imprisonment terms imposed on people sentenced for murder, 2009–10 to 2013–14

Financial year Average length of imprisonment term
2009-10 (n= 21) 18y, 5m
2010-11 (n= 21) 19y, 0m
2011-12 (n= 21) 20y, 0m
2012-13 (n= 23) 19y, 8m
2013-14 (n= 15) 22y, 1m

Other offences finalised at the same hearing

Sometimes people prosecuted for murder 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 murder.

Figure 5 shows the number of people sentenced for the principal offence of murder by the total number of offences for which sentences were set.  The number of sentenced offences per person ranged from 1 to 6, while the median was 1 offence.  There were 92 people (71.3%) sentenced for the single offence of murder.  The average number of offences per person sentenced for murder was 1.51.

Figure 5: The number of people sentenced for the principal offence of murder by the number of sentenced offences per person, 2009–10 to 2013–14

Number of offences Number of people
1 92
2 20
3 8
4 7
5+ 2
Total 129

While Figure 5 presents the number of sentenced offences for people sentenced for murder, Table 2 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, 7 of the total 129 people (5.4%) also received sentences for theft.  On average, they were sentenced for 1.43 counts of theft.

Table 2: The number and percentage of people sentenced for the principal offence of murder by the most common offences sentenced and the average number of those offences sentenced, 2009–10 to 2013–14

Offence No. of cases % of cases Average no. of
proven offences
per case
1. Murder 129 100.0 1.07
2. Theft 7 5.4 1.43
3. Causing serious injury intentionally 6 4.7 1.50
4. Arson 3 2.3 1.00
5. Robbery 2 1.6 2.00
6. Aggravated burglary 2 1.6 1.00
7. Causing serious injury recklessly 2 1.6 1.00
8. False imprisonment 2 1.6 1.00
9. Kidnapping (common law) 2 1.6 1.00
10. Making a threat to kill 2 1.6 1.00
People sentenced 129 100.0 1.51

Total effective sentence of imprisonment

There were 114 people given a total effective sentence of imprisonment.  Figure 6 shows the number of people sentenced to imprisonment for murder between 2009–10 and 2013–14 by length of total effective sentence.  The length of total effective sentences ranged from 10 years and 6 months to life, while the median total effective length of non-life imprisonment sentences was 20 years (meaning that half of the total effective non-life sentence lengths were below 20 years and half were above).

The most common range of total effective imprisonment length was 20 years to less than 21 years (16 people).

Figure 6: The number of people sentenced to imprisonment for murder by length of total effective imprisonment term, 2009–10 to 2013–14

Total effective imprisonment length Number of people
10 years to less than 11 years 1
11 years to less than 12 years 0
12 years to less than 13 years 0
13 years to less than 14 years 1
14 years to less than 15 years 4
15 years to less than 16 years 4
16 years to less than 17 years 5
17 years to less than 18 years 7
18 years to less than 19 years 14
19 years to less than 20 years 8
20 years to less than 21 years 16
21 years to less than 22 years 6
22 years to less than 23 years 7
23 years to less than 24 years 6
24 years to less than 25 years 6
25 years to less than 26 years 1
26 years to less than 27 years 4
27 years to less than 27 years 4
28 years to less than 29 years 2
29 years to less than 30 years 0
30 years or more 5
Life 13
People sentenced 114

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 some cases, the non-parole period will be longer than the individual principal sentence for murder.  Sentences and non-parole periods must be considered in this broader context.

Of the 114 people who were sentenced to imprisonment for murder, all were eligible to have a non-parole period fixed.  Of these people, 109 were given a non-parole period (96%).[7] Figure 7 shows the number of people sentenced to imprisonment for murder between 2009–10 and 2013–14 by length of non-parole period.  Non-parole periods ranged from 6 years to 35 years, while the median length of the non-parole period was 16 years (meaning that half of the non-parole periods were below 16 years and half were above). 

The most common range of non-parole period imposed was 16 years to less than 17 years (18 people).

Figure 7: The number of people sentenced to imprisonment for murder by length of non-parole period, 2009–10 to 2013–14

Non-parole period Number of people
6 years to less than 7 years 1
7 years to less than 8 years 0
8 years to less than 9 years 1
9 years to less than 10 years 1
10 years to less than 11 years 5
11 years to less than 12 years 3
12 years to less than 13 years 3
13 years to less than 14 years 4
14 years to less than 15 years 11
15 years to less than 16 years 12
16 years to less than 17 years 18
17 years to less than 18 years 7
18 years to less than 19 years 10
19 years to less than 20 years 8
20 years to less than 21 years 5
21 years to less than 22 years 4
22 years to less than 23 years 0
23 years to less than 24 years 0
24 years to less than 25 years 3
25 years to less than 26 years 2
26 years to less than 27 years 1
27 years to less than 27 years 0
28 years to less than 29 years 0
29 years to less than 30 years 0
30 years or more 10
No NPP 5
People sentenced 114

Total effective sentences of imprisonment and non-parole periods

Figure 8 presents the average length of total effective sentences of imprisonment compared with the average length of non-parole periods from 2009–10 to 2013–14.

From 2009–10 to 2013–14, the average length of total effective sentences for all people ranged from 19 years and 1 month in 2009–10 to 23 years and 4 months in 2013–14.  Over the same period, the average length of non-parole periods ranged from 15 years and 6 months in 2009–10 to 20 years and 1 month in 2013–14.

Figure 8: The average total effective sentence and the average non-parole period imposed on people sentenced to imprisonment for murder, 2009–10 to 2013–14

Financial year Average total effective length Average non-parole period
2009-10 19y, 1m 15y, 6m
2010-11 20y, 5m 17y, 0m
2011-12 20y, 10m 18y, 5m
2012-13 20y, 3m 17y, 3m
2013-14 23y, 4m 20y, 1m

Sentences of life imprisonment

Between 2009–10 and 2013–14, there were 13 people sentenced to life imprisonment for murder.  Of the 13 people who were sentenced to life imprisonment, 9 were eligible to apply for parole (69.2%).

Non-parole periods for these people ranged from 30 years to 35 years with an average of 32 years and 4 months.  Life sentences of imprisonment accounted for 11.4% of all imprisonment sentences handed down for murder.

Total effective sentence of imprisonment by non-parole period

Data on the total effective sentence of imprisonment by non-parole period for murder are available on SACStat – Higher Courts.

Summary

Between 2009–10 and 2013–14, 129 people were sentenced for murder in the higher courts.  The majority of the people sentenced for murder received a period of imprisonment (88%), while 10% received a custodial supervision order.

Total effective imprisonment lengths ranged from 10 years and 6 months with a non-parole period of 6 years to life with no non-parole period.  The most common sentence of imprisonment was 20 years with a non-parole period of 16 years.

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 found to be unfit to stand trial and/or 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. 140, which describes sentencing trends for murder between 2007–08 and 2011–12.

[2] Data on first instance sentence outcomes presented in this Snapshot were obtained from the Strategic Analysis and Review Team at Court Services Victoria. The Sentencing Advisory Council collected data on appeal outcomes from the Australasian Legal Information Institute. 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.

[3] Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) s 3.

[4] 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.

[5] Immediate custodial sentence includes imprisonment and custodial supervision order.

[6] Refer to Endnote 4.

[7] A non-parole period was not set for 5 people who were eligible for a non-parole period.