Sentencing Trends for Making a Threat To Kill in the Higher Courts of Victoria 2009-10 to 2013-14

Sentencing Snapshot 174
Date of Publication: 
14 May 2015

Sentencing Snapshot no. 174 describes sentencing outcomes for the offence of making a threat to kill in the County Court of Victoria between 2009–10 and 2013–14.

This is the most recent Sentencing Snapshot for this offence.

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 making a threat to kill in the County 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 making a threat to kill and other offences are available on SACStat – Higher Courts.

A person who, without lawful excuse, threatens to kill another person is guilty of the offence of making a threat to kill. The person must intend that, or be reckless as to whether, the other person would fear the threat would be carried out.

Making a threat to kill is an indictable offence that carries a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment[3] and/or a fine of 1,200 penalty units.[4] Indictable offences are more serious offences triable before a judge and jury in the County or Supreme Court. Making a threat to kill can also be tried summarily by the Magistrates’ Court if the Magistrates’ Court considers it appropriate and the defendant consents.

Making a threat to kill was the principal offence[5] in 0.3% of cases sentenced in the higher courts between 2009–10 and 2013–14.

People sentenced

From 2009–10 to 2013–14, 26 people were sentenced in the higher courts for a principal offence of making a threat to kill. 

Figure 1 shows the number of people sentenced for the principal offence of making a threat to kill by financial year. There were 4 people sentenced for this offence in 2013–14, down by 2 people from the previous year.  The number of people sentenced was highest in 2011–12 (8 people).

Figure 1: The number of people sentenced for making a threat to kill by financial year, 2009–10 to 2013–14

Financial year Total
2009-10 5
2010-11 3
2011-12 8
2012-13 6
2013-14 4
Total 26

Sentence types and trends

Figure 2 shows the total number of people sentenced for making a threat to kill 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, 62% of people were given an immediate custodial sentence.  This peaked at 100% (3 of 3) in 2010–11 before decreasing to 25% (2 of 8) in 2011–12.  In 2013–14, 75% of people sentenced (3 of 4) were given an immediate custodial sentence.

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

Financial year Custodial Non-Custodial Total
2009-10 4 1 5
2010-11 3 0 3
2011-12 2 6 8
2012-13 4 2 6
2013-14 3 1 4
Total 16 10 26

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

Over the five-year period, half of the people sentenced for making a threat to kill received a period of imprisonment (50% or 13 of 26 people), while 19% received a community correction order.

The number of people receiving imprisonment for making a threat to kill was lowest during 2010–11 (1 person) while the percentage was lowest during 2011–12 (25%). The number and percentage of people receiving imprisonment were highest during 2009–10 (4 of 5 people or 80%).

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

Sentence type 2009–10 2010–11 2011–12 2012–13 2013–14 Total
Imprisonment 4 (80%) 1 (33%) 2 (25%) 3 (50%) 3 (75%) 13 (50%)
Community correction order 0 (–) 0 (–) 2 (25%) 2 (33%) 1 (25%) 5 (19%)
Community–based order 1 (20%) 0 (–) 2 (25%) 0 (–) 0 (–) 3 (12%)
Partially suspended sentence 0 (–) 2 (67%) 0 (–) 1 (17%) 0 (–) 3 (12%)
Wholly suspended sentence 0 (–) 0 (–) 2 (25%) 0 (–) 0 (–) 2 (8%)
People sentenced 5 3 8 6 4 26

Age and gender of people sentenced

Data on the age and gender of people sentenced for making a threat to kill 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 making a threat to kill must be considered in this broader context. The following sections analyse the use of imprisonment for the offence of making a threat to kill from 2009–10 to 2013–14.

Principal sentence of imprisonment

A total of 13 people received a principal sentence of imprisonment for making a threat to kill between 2009–10 and 2013–14.

Figure 3 shows these people by the length of their imprisonment term.  Imprisonment terms ranged from 4 days to 3 years, while the median length of imprisonment was 1 year (meaning that half of the imprisonment terms were shorter than 1 year and half were longer).

The most common ranges of imprisonment length imposed were less than 1 year and 2 to less than 3 years (5 people each).

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

Imprisonment length Number of people
Less than 1 year 5
1 to less than 2 years 2
2 to less than 3 years 5
3 to less than 4 years 1
People sentenced 13

Other offences finalised at the same hearing

Often people prosecuted for making a threat to kill 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 making a threat to kill.

Figure 4 shows the number of people sentenced for the principal offence of making a threat to kill by the total number of offences for which sentences were set.  The number of sentenced offences per person ranged from 1 to 11, while the median was 3 offences.  There were 3 people (11.5%) sentenced for the single offence of making a threat to kill.  The average number of offences per person sentenced for making a threat to kill was 3.31.

Figure 4: The number of people sentenced for the principal offence of making a threat to kill by the number of sentenced offences per person, 2009–10 to 2013–14

Number of offences Number of people
1 3
2 8
3 6
4 4
5-9 4
10+ 1
Total 26

While Figure 4 presents the number of sentenced offences for people sentenced for making a threat to kill, 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, 8 of the total 26 people (30.8%) also received sentences for criminal damage.  On average, they were sentenced for 1.38 counts of criminal damage.

Table 2: The number and percentage of people sentenced for the principal offence of making a threat to kill 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. Making a threat to kill 26 100.0 1.08
2. Intentionally damage/destroy property (criminal damage) 8 30.8 1.38
3. Assault 7 26.9 1.29
4. Aggravated burglary 4 15.4 1.00
5. Contravene family violence intervention order (interim/final) 4 15.4 1.00
6. Aggravated assault - in company/kicking/weapon 3 11.5 1.67
7. Prohibited person possess/carry/use a registered firearm 2 7.7 1.50
8. Causing injury recklessly 2 7.7 1.00
9. Breach intervention order (final/interim) 1 3.8 2.00
10. Reckless conduct endangering person 1 3.8 2.00
People sentenced 26 100.0 3.31

Total effective sentence of imprisonment

There were 13 people given a total effective sentence of imprisonment.  Figure 5 shows the number of people sentenced to imprisonment for making a threat to kill between 2009–10 and 2013–14 by length of total effective sentence.  The length of total effective sentences ranged from 4 days to 4 years, while the median total effective length of imprisonment was 1 year and 6 months (meaning that half of the total effective sentence lengths were below 1 year and 6 months and half were above).

The most common range of total effective imprisonment length was less than one year (4 people).

Figure 5: The number of people sentenced to imprisonment for making a threat to kill by length of total effective imprisonment term, 2009–10 to 2013–14

Total effective imprisonment length Number of people
Less than 1 year 4
1 to less than 2 years 3
2 to less than 3 years 2
3 to less than 4 years 2
4 to less than 5 years 2
People sentenced 13

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 making a threat to kill.  Sentences and non-parole periods must be considered in this broader context.

Of the 13 people who were sentenced to imprisonment for making a threat to kill, 9 were eligible to have a non-parole period fixed.[8] Of these people, all were given a non-parole period (100%).  Figure 6 shows the number of people sentenced to imprisonment for making a threat to kill between 2009–10 and 2013–14 by length of non-parole period.  Non-parole periods ranged from 8 months to 2 years and 6 months, while the median length of the non-parole period was 1 year and 3 months (meaning that half of the non-parole periods were below 1 year and 3 months and half were above). 

The most common range of non-parole period imposed was 2 to less than 3 years (4 people).

Figure 6: The number of people sentenced to imprisonment for making a threat to kill by length of non-parole period, 2009–10 to 2013–14

Non-parole period Number of people
Less than 1 year 3
1 to less than 2 years 2
2 to less than 3 years 4
No NPP 4
People sentenced 13

Total effective sentence of imprisonment by non-parole period

Data on the total effective sentence of imprisonment by non-parole period for making a threat to kill 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 making a threat to kill are available on SACStat – Higher Courts.

Summary

Between 2009–10 and 2013–14, 26 people were sentenced for making a threat to kill in the higher courts.  Of these people, 13 (50%) were given a principal sentence of imprisonment.

The number and range of offences for which people with a principal offence of obtaining a financial advantage by deception 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 1 year and 6 months while the median principal imprisonment length was 1 year.

Total effective imprisonment lengths ranged from 4 days to 4 years, and non-parole periods (where imposed) ranged from 8 months to 2 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. 143, which describes sentencing trends for making a threat to kill 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 20.

[4] The value of a penalty unit changes each year and can be found on the Victorian Government Gazette and on the Victorian 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 sentences included imprisonment and partially suspended sentences.

[7] Refer to Endnote 5.

[8] A total of 4 people were not eligible for parole because they were given a total effective sentence length of less than one year.