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

Sentencing Snapshot 172
Date of Publication: 
14 May 2015

Sentencing Snapshot no. 172 describes sentencing outcomes for the offence of manslaughter in the Supreme Court of Victoria between 2009–10 and 2013–14.

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, 2015

Please note: the original version of this Snapshot contained data that has 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 manslaughter 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 manslaughter and other offences are available on SACStat – Higher Courts.

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.[3] Manslaughter is an indictable offence that carries a maximum penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment[4] and/or a fine of 2,400 penalty units.[5]

Manslaughter was the principal offence[6] in 0.9% of cases sentenced in the higher courts between 2009–10 and 2013–14.

People sentenced

From 2009–10 to 2013–14, 89 people were sentenced in the higher courts for a principal offence of manslaughter. 

Figure 1 shows the number of people sentenced for the principal offence of manslaughter by financial year. There were 12 people sentenced for this offence in 2013–14, down by 6 people from the previous year.  The number of people sentenced was highest in 2010–11 (29 people).

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

Financial Year Total
2009-10 17
2010-11 29
2011-12 13
2012-13 18
2013-14 12
Total 89

Sentence types and trends

Figure 2 shows the total number of people sentenced for manslaughter 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.[7] Over the five-year period, 97% of people were given an immediate custodial sentence.  This peaked at 100% in 2010-11 and 2011–12 before decreasing to 92% (11 of 12) in 2013–14.

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

Financial Year Custodial Non-custodial Total
2009-10 16 1 17
2010-11 29 0 29
2011-12 13 0 13
2012-13 17 1 18
2013-14 11 1 12
Total 86 3 89

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

Over the five-year period, the majority of the people sentenced for manslaughter received a period of imprisonment (94% or 84 of 89 people).

The number of people receiving imprisonment was lowest during 2013–14 (11 people) and highest during 2010–11 (28 people). The percentage of people receiving imprisonment ranged from 92% during both 2011–12 and 2013–14 to 96% in 2010–11.

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

Sentence type 2009–10 2010–11 2011–12 2012–13 2013–14 Total
Imprisonment 16 (94%) 28 (97%) 12 (92%) 17 (94%) 11 (92%) 84 (94%)
Partially suspended sentence 0 (–) 1 (3%) 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (1%)
Wholly suspended sentence 0 (–) 0 () 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (8%) 1 (1%)
Youth justice centre order 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (8%) 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (1%)
Community–based order 1 (6%) 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (1%)
Adjourned undertaking with conviction 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (6%) 0 (–) 1 (1%)
People sentenced 17 29 13 18 12 89

Age and gender of people sentenced

Data on the age and gender of people sentenced for manslaughter 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.[8]

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 2009–10 to 2013–14.

Principal sentence of imprisonment

A total of 84 people received a principal sentence of imprisonment for manslaughter between 2009–10 and 2013–14.

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

The most common range of imprisonment length imposed was 8 to less than 9 years (19 people).

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

Imprisonment length Number of people
3 to less than 4 years 3
4 to less than 5 years 6
5 to less than 6 years 9
6 to less than 7 years 9
7 to less than 8 years 12
8 to less than 9 years 19
9 to less than 10 years 10
10 to less than 11 years 12
11 to less than 12 years 3
12 to less than 13 years 0
13 to less than 14 years 0
14 to less than 15 years 1
People sentenced 84

As shown in Figure 4, the average length of imprisonment term imposed on people sentenced for manslaughter ranged from 6 years and 9 months in 2013–14 to 8 years and 1 month in 2009–10 and 2012–13.

Figure 4: The average length of imprisonment term imposed on people sentenced for manslaughter, 2009–10 to 2013–14

Financial year Average length of imprisonment term
2009-10 8y, 1m
2010-11 7y, 3m
2011-12 7y, 6m
2012-13 8y, 1m
2013-14 6y, 9m

Other offences finalised at the same hearing

Often 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 5 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 67 people (75.3%) sentenced for the single offence of manslaughter.  The average number of offences per person sentenced for manslaughter was 1.60.

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

Number of offences Number of people
1 67
2 8
3 9
4 0
5 or more 5
Total 89

While Figure 5 presents the number of sentenced offences for people sentenced for manslaughter, 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, 12 of the total 89 people (13.5%) also received sentences for affray.  On average, they were sentenced for 1 count of affray.

Table 2: The number and percentage of people sentenced for the principal offence of manslaughter 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. Manslaughter 89 100.0 1.00
2. Affray 12 13.5 1.00
3. Causing serious injury recklessly 8 9.0 1.00
4. Causing injury recklessly 5 5.6 1.40
5. Causing serious injury intentionally 4 4.5 1.00
6. Causing injury intentionally 3 3.4 3.00
7. Intentionally destroy/damage property (criminal damage) 2 2.2 1.00
8. Drug trafficking in a non-commercial quantity 1 1.1 3.00
9. Prohibited person possess/carry/use registered firearm 1 1.1 2.00
10. Attempt to obtain property by deception 1 1.1 1.00
People sentenced 89 100.0 1.60

Total effective sentence of imprisonment

There were 84 people given a total effective sentence of imprisonment.  Figure 6 shows the number of people sentenced to imprisonment for manslaughter between 2009–10 and 2013–14 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 range of total effective imprisonment length was 8 to less than 9 years (17 people).

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

Total effective imprisonment length Number of people
3 to less than 4 years 3
4 to less than 5 years 5
5 to less than 6 years 7
6 to less than 7 years 10
7 to less than 8 years 13
8 to less than 9 years 17
9 to less than 10 years 9
10 to less than 11 years 12
11 to less than 12 years 6
12 to less than 13 years 1
13 to less than 14 years 0
14 to less than 15 years 1
People sentenced 84

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 manslaughter.  Sentences and non-parole periods must be considered in this broader context.

Of the 84 people who were sentenced to imprisonment for manslaughter, all were eligible to have a non-parole period fixed.  Of these people, all were given a non-parole period (100%).  Figure 7 shows the number of people sentenced to imprisonment for manslaughter between 2009–10 and 2013–14 by length of non-parole period.  Non-parole periods ranged from 9 months to 10 years, while the median length of the non-parole period was 5 years and 4 months (meaning that half of the non-parole periods were below 5 years and 4 months and half were above). 

The most common range of non-parole periods imposed was 5 to less than 6 years (22 people).

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

Non-parole period Number of people
Less than 1 year 1
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 8
5 to less than 6 years 22
6 to less than 7 yeas 13
7 to less than 8 years 11
8 to less than 9 years 6
9 to less than 10 years 1
10 to less than 11 years 1
People sentenced 84

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 7 years and 2 months in 2013–14 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 9 months in 2013–14 to 5 years and 6 months in 2012–13.

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

Financial year Average total effective imprisonment length Average non-parole period
2009-10 8y, 6m 5y, 4m
2010-11 7y, 6m 5y, 0m
2011-12 7y, 6m 4y, 11m
2012-13 8y, 2m 5y, 6m
2013-14 7y, 2m 4y, 9m

Total effective sentence of imprisonment by non-parole period

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

Non-imprisonment sentences

Data on the length of non-imprisonment sentence types, such as community correction orders, suspended sentences, and fines, for manslaughter are available on SACStat – Higher Courts.

Summary

Between 2009–10 and 2013–14, 89 people were sentenced for manslaughter in the higher courts.  The majority of the people sentenced for manslaughter received a period of imprisonment (94%).

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 8 years with a non-parole period of 5 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. 141, which describes sentencing trends for manslaughter 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] Deaths caused by the culpable driving of a motor vehicle are not covered by the offence of manslaughter.

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

[5] The value of a penalty unit changes each year and can be found in the Victorian Government Gazette and on the Victoria Legislation and Parliamentary Documents website.

[6] 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.

[7] Immediate custodial sentence includes imprisonment, partially suspended sentences, and youth justice centre orders.

[8] Refer to Endnote 6.