Sentencing Trends for Culpable Driving Causing Death in the Higher Courts of Victoria 2009-10 to 2013-14

Sentencing Snapshot 173
Date of Publication: 
14 May 2015

Sentencing Snapshot no. 173 describes sentencing outcomes for the offence of culpable driving causing death in the County and Supreme Courts of Victoria between 2009–10 and 2013–14.

The most recent Sentencing Snapshot for this offence is Snapshot no. 225.

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, 2015

Introduction

This Sentencing Snapshot describes sentencing outcomes[1] for the offence of culpable driving causing death in the County and Supreme Courts 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 culpable driving causing death and other offences are available on SACStat – Higher Courts.

This offence covers homicides caused by the culpable driving of a motor vehicle.  This offence is committed where a person drives a motor vehicle negligently, recklessly, or while under the influence of drugs or alcohol and causes the death of another person.[3] Culpable driving causing death is an indictable offence that carries a maximum penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment and/or a fine of 2,400 penalty units.[4]

Culpable driving causing death was the principal offence[5] in 0.7% of cases sentenced in the higher courts between 2009–10 and 2013–14.

People sentenced

From 2009–10 to 2013–14, 67 people were sentenced in the higher courts for a principal offence of culpable driving causing death.

Figure 1 shows the number of people sentenced for the principal offence of culpable driving causing death by financial year. There were 16 people sentenced for this offence in 2013–14, down by 2 people from the previous year.  The number of people sentenced was highest in 2012–13 (18 people).

Figure 1: The number of people sentenced for culpable driving causing death by financial year, 2009–10 to 2013–14

Financial year Total
2009-10 15
2010-11 9
2011-12 9
2012-13 18
2013-14 16
Total 67

Sentence types and trends

Figure 2 shows the total number of people sentenced for culpable driving causing death 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.[6] Over the five-year period, 93% of people were given an immediate custodial sentence.  This peaked at 100% (15 of 15) in 2009–10 before decreasing to 89% in each of the years 2010–11, 2011–12, and 2012–13.  In 2013–14, 94% of people sentenced (15 of 16) were given an immediate custodial sentence.

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

Financial year Custodial Non-Custodial Total
2009-10 15 0 15
2010-11 8 1 9
2011-12 8 1 9
2012-13 16 2 18
2013-14 15 1 16
Total 62 5 67

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

Over the five-year period, the majority of the people sentenced for culpable driving causing death received a period of imprisonment (87% or 58 of 67 people).

The number of people receiving a sentence of imprisonment was lowest during 2010–11 and 2011–12 (7 people each) and highest during 2009–10 and 2013–14 (15 people each).

The percentage of people receiving imprisonment was lowest during each of the years 2010–11, 2011–12, and 2012–13 (78% each) and highest during 2009–10 where 100% of people sentenced received imprisonment.

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

Sentence type 2009–10 2010–11 2011–12 2012–13 2013–14 Total
Imprisonment 15 (100%) 7 (78%) 7 (78%) 14 (78%) 15 (94%) 58 (87%)
Youth justice centre order 0 (–) 1 (11%) 1 (11%) 2 (11%) 0 (–) 4 (6%)
Wholly suspended sentence 0 (–) 1 (11%) 1 (11%) 1 (6%) 1 (6%) 4 (6%)
Non–custodial supervision order 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (6%) 0 (–) 1 (1%)
People sentenced 15 9 9 18 16 67

Age and gender of people sentenced

Data on the age and gender of people sentenced for culpable driving causing death 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[7]

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

Principal sentence of imprisonment

A total of 58 people received a principal sentence of imprisonment for culpable driving causing death 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 10 years and 6 months, while the median length was 6 years (meaning that half of the imprisonment terms were shorter than 6 years and half were longer).

The most common range of imprisonment length imposed was 5 to less than 6 years (21 people).

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

Imprisonment length Number of people
3 to less than 4 years 1
4 to less than 5 years 5
5 to less than 6 years 21
6 to less than 7 years 16
7 to less than 8 years 8
8 to less than 9 years 4
9 to less than 10 years 1
10 to less than 11 years 2
People sentenced 58

As shown in Figure 4, the average length of imprisonment term imposed on people sentenced for culpable driving causing death ranged from 5 years and 11 months in 2012–13 and 2013–14 to 6 years and 2 months in 2009–10.

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

Financial year Average length of imprisonment term
2009-10 (n= 15) 6y, 2m
2010-11 (n= 7) 6y, 1m
2011-12 (n= 7) 6y, 0m
2012-13 (n= 14) 5y, 11m
2013-14 (n= 15) 5y, 11m

Other offences finalised at the same hearing

Often people prosecuted for culpable driving causing death 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 culpable driving causing death.

Figure 5 shows the number of people sentenced for the principal offence of culpable driving causing death by the total number of offences for which sentences were set.  The number of sentenced offences per person ranged from 1 to 9, while the median was 2 offences.  There were 23 people (34.3%) sentenced for the single offence of culpable driving causing death.  The average number of offences per person sentenced for culpable driving causing death was 2.90.

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

Number of offences Number of people
1 23
2 16
3 5
4 8
5+ 15
Total 67

While Figure 5 presents the number of sentenced offences for people sentenced for culpable driving causing death, 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, 23 of the total 67 people (34.3%) also received sentences for negligently causing serious injury.  On average, they were sentenced for 1.87 counts of negligently causing serious injury.

Table 2: The number and percentage of people sentenced for the principal offence of culpable driving causing death 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. Culpable driving causing death 67 100.0 1.10
2. Negligently causing serious injury 23 34.3 1.87
3. Unlicensed driving 7 10.4 1.00
4. Reckless conduct endangering persons 5 7.5 1.80
5. Reckless conduct endangering life 5 7.5 1.60
6. Theft 5 7.5 1.40
7. Drive whilst authorisation suspended 5 7.5 1.20
8. Dangerous driving (Road Safety Act 1986 (Vic)) 2 3.0 2.00
9. Dangerous driving causing serious injury (Crimes Act 1958 (Vic)) 2 3.0 1.00
Use unsafe/unroadworthy vehicle on highway 2 3.0 1.00
People sentenced 67 100.0 2.90

Total effective sentence of imprisonment

There were 58 people given a total effective sentence of imprisonment.  Figure 6 shows the number of people sentenced to imprisonment for culpable driving causing death between 2009–10 and 2013–14 by length of total effective sentence.  The length of total effective sentences ranged from 4 years to 13 years, while the median total effective length of imprisonment was 6 years and 6 months (meaning that half of the total effective sentence lengths were below 6 years and 6 months and half were above).

The most common range of total effective imprisonment length was 6 to less than 7 years (16 people).

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

Total effective imprisonment length Number of people
4 to less than 5 years 5
5 to less than 6 years 11
6 to less than 7 years 16
7 to less than 8 years 11
8 to less than 9 years 3
9 to less than 10 years 6
10 to less than 11 years 4
11 to less than 12 years 1
12 to less than 13 years 0
13 to less than 14 years 1
People sentenced 58

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 culpable driving causing death.  Sentences and non-parole periods must be considered in this broader context.

Of the 58 people who were sentenced to imprisonment for culpable driving causing death, all were given a non-parole period (100%). Figure 7 shows the number of people sentenced to imprisonment for culpable driving causing death between 2009–10 and 2013–14 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 4 years (meaning that half of the non-parole periods were below 4 years and half were above). 

The most common range of non-parole periods imposed was 3 to less than 4 years (16 people).

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

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 16
4 to less than 5 years 14
5 to less than 6 years 8
6 to less than 7 yeas 7
7 to less than 8 years 4
8 to less than 9 years 1
9 to less than 10 years 0
10 to less than 11 years 1
People sentenced 58

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 6 years and 7 months in 2010–11 and 2012–13 to 7 years and 4 months in 2009–10.  Over the same period, the average length of non-parole periods ranged from 4 years and 2 months in 2012–13 to 4 years and 7 months in 2009–10 and 2011–12.

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

Financial year Average total effective length Average non-parole period
2009-10 7y, 4m 4y, 7m
2010-11 6y, 7m 4y, 6m
2011-12 7y, 3m 4y, 7m
2012-13 6y, 7m 4y, 2m
2013-14 6y, 10m 4y, 3m

Total effective sentence of imprisonment by non-parole period

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

Summary

Between 2009–10 and 2013–14, 67 people were sentenced for culpable driving causing death in the higher courts.  The majority of the people sentenced for culpable driving causing death received a period of imprisonment (87%).

Total effective imprisonment lengths ranged from 4 years with a non-parole period of 1 year and 6 months to 13 years with a non-parole period of 10 years.  The most common sentence of imprisonment was 6 years with a non-parole period of 3 years and 6 months.

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. 142, which describes sentencing trends for culpable driving causing death 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 318.

[4] 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.

[5] 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.

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

[7] Refer to Endnote 5.