Sentencing Trends for Causing Serious Injury Recklessly in the Higher Courts of Victoria 2010–11 to 2014–15

Sentencing Snapshot 188
Date of Publication: 
28 June 2016

Sentencing Snapshot no. 188 describes sentencing outcomes for the offence of causing serious injury recklessly in the County and Supreme Courts of Victoria between 2010–11 and 2014–15.

The most recent Sentencing Snapshot for this offence is Snapshot no. 214.

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, 2016

Introduction

This Sentencing Snapshot describes sentencing outcomes[1] for the offence of causing serious injury recklessly in the County and Supreme Courts of Victoria between 2010–11 and 2014–15.[2] Adjustments made by the Court of Appeal to sentence or conviction as at June 2015 have been incorporated into the data in this Snapshot.

Detailed data on causing serious injury recklessly and other offences are available on SACStat – Higher Courts.

A person who recklessly causes serious injury to another person without lawful excuse is guilty of this offence. Recklessness requires foresight on the part of the accused of the probability that injury will occur as a consequence of his or her actions.  ‘Injury’ includes unconsciousness, hysteria, pain, and any substantial impairment of bodily function. ‘Serious injury’ includes a combination of injuries. These definitions are not exhaustive. Causing serious injury recklessly[3] is an indictable offence that carries a maximum penalty of 15 years’ imprisonment and/or a fine of 1,800 penalty units.[4] Indictable offences are more serious offences triable before a judge and jury in the County or Supreme Court. Causing serious injury recklessly is also triable summarily by the Magistrates’ Court, if the Magistrates’ Court considers it appropriate and the defendant consents.

Causing serious injury recklessly was the principal offence[5] in 5.1% of cases sentenced in the higher courts between 2010–11 and 2014–15.

People sentenced

From 2010–11 to 2014–15, 483 people were sentenced in the higher courts for a principal offence of causing serious injury recklessly. 

Figure 1 shows the number of people sentenced for the principal offence of causing serious injury recklessly by financial year. There were 68 people sentenced for this offence in 2014–15, down by 5 people from the previous year.  The number of people sentenced was highest in 2010–11 (123 people).

Figure 1: The number of people sentenced for causing serious injury recklessly by financial year, 2010–11 to 2014–15

Financial year Total
2010–11 123
2011–12 112
2012–13 107
2013–14 73
2014–15 68
Total 483

Sentence types and trends

Figure 2 shows the total number of people sentenced for causing serious injury recklessly 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, 73% of people were given an immediate custodial sentence.  This peaked at 78% (57 of 73) in 2013–14 after a low of 67% (75 of 112) in 2011–12.  In 2014–15, 74% of people sentenced (50 of 68) were given an immediate custodial sentence.

Figure 2: The number of people sentenced for causing serious injury recklessly and the number that received an immediate custodial sentence, 2010–11 to 2014–15

Financial year Custodial Non-Custodial Total
2010–11 87 36 123
2011–12 75 37 112
2012–13 83 24 107
2013–14 57 16 73
2014–15 50 18 68
Total 352 131 483

Table 1 shows the number of people sentenced for causing serious injury recklessly from 2010–11 to 2014–15 by the types of sentences imposed.

Over the five-year period, the majority of the people sentenced for causing serious injury recklessly received a period of imprisonment (57% or 273 of 483 people), while 15% received a wholly suspended sentence of imprisonment and 10% received a community correction order.

The percentage of people receiving imprisonment for causing serious injury recklessly peaked at 71% (52 of 73 people) in 2013–14, while the number was highest in 2010–11 (67 of 123 people or 54%). The percentage and number of people receiving imprisonment for causing serious injury recklessly were lowest in 2014–15 (41% or 28 of 68 people).

Table 1: The number and percentage of people sentenced for causing serious injury recklessly by sentence type, 2010–11 to 2014–15

Sentence type 2010–11 2011–12 2012–13 2013–14 2014–15 Total
Imprisonment 67 (54%) 61 (54%) 65 (61%) 52 (71%) 28 (41%) 273 (57%)
Wholly suspended sentence 29 (24%) 27 (24%) 11 (10%) 4 (5%) 0 (–) 71 (15%)
Community correction order 0 (–) 8 (7%) 12 (11%) 12 (16%) 17 (25%) 49 (10%)
Youth justice centre order 7 (6%) 4 (4%) 12 (11%) 1 (1%) 2 (3%) 26 (5%)
Partially suspended sentence 13 (11%) 9 (8%) 3 (3%) 0 (–) 0 (–) 25 (5%)
Mix (imprisonment and community correction order) 0 (–) 0 (–) 2 (2%) 1 (1%) 17 (25%) 20 (4%)
Community-based order 6 (5%) 1 (<1%) 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 7 (1%)
Aggregate imprisonment 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (<1%) 2 (3%) 0 (–) 3 (<1%)
Mix (aggregate imprisonment and community correction order) 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 2 (3%) 2 (<1%)
Mix (imprisonment and community-based order) 0 (–) 1 (<1%) 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (<1%)
Custodial supervision order 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (1%) 0 (–) 1 (<1%)
Aggregate youth justice centre order 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (1%) 1 (<1%)
Aggregate wholly suspended sentence 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (1%) 1 (<1%)
Mix (wholly suspended sentence and fine) 1 (<1%) 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (<1%)
Non-custodial supervision order 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (<1%) 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (<1%)
Intensive correction order 0 (–) 1 (<1%) 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (<1%)
People sentenced 123 112 107 73 68 483

Age and gender of people sentenced

Data on the age and gender of people sentenced for causing serious injury recklessly 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 causing serious injury recklessly must be considered in this broader context. The following sections analyse the use of imprisonment for the offence of causing serious injury recklessly from 2010–11 to 2014–15.

Principal sentence of imprisonment

A total of 299 people (62%) received a principal sentence of imprisonment for causing serious injury recklessly between 2010–11 and 2014–15.[8]

Figure 3 shows these people by the length of their imprisonment term.[9]  Imprisonment terms ranged from 14 days (combined with a community correction order) to 6 years, 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 length of imprisonment imposed was 2 to less than 3 years (104 people).

Figure 3: The number of people sentenced to imprisonment for causing serious injury recklessly by length of imprisonment term, 2010–11 to 2014–15

Imprisonment length Number of people
Less than 1 year 16
1 to less than 2 years 53
2 to less than 3 years 104
3 to less than 4 years 70
4 to less than 5 years 36
5 to less than 6 years 8
6 to less than 7 years 7
People sentenced 294

As shown in Figure 4, the average length of an imprisonment term imposed on people sentenced for causing serious injury recklessly ranged from 2 years and 2 months in 2014–15 to 2 years and 9 months in 2012–13.

Figure 4: The average length of imprisonment term imposed on people sentenced for causing serious injury recklessly, 2010–11 to 2014–15

Financial year Average length of imprisonment term
2010–11 (n = 67) 2 years, 8 months
2011–12 (n = 62) 2 years, 8 months
2012–13 (n = 67) 2 years, 9 months
2013–14 (n = 53) 2 years, 8 months
2014–15 (n = 45) 2 years, 2 months

Other offences finalised at the same hearing

Often people prosecuted for causing serious injury recklessly 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 causing serious injury recklessly.

Figure 5 shows the number of people sentenced for the principal offence of causing serious injury recklessly by the total number of offences for which sentences were set.  The number of sentenced offences per person ranged from 1 to 32, while the median was 1 offence.  There were 252 people (52.2%) sentenced for the single offence of causing serious injury recklessly.  The average number of offences per person sentenced for causing serious injury recklessly was 2.20.

Figure 5: The number of people sentenced for the principal offence of causing serious injury recklessly by the number of sentenced offences per person, 2010–11 to 2014–15

Number of offences Number of people
1 252
2 117
3 49
4 26
5–9 31
10–19 7
20+ 1
Total 483

While Figure 5 presents the number of sentenced offences for those sentenced for causing serious injury recklessly, 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, 33 of the total 483 people (6.8%) also received sentences for causing injury recklessly.  On average, they were sentenced for 1.09 counts of causing injury recklessly.

Table 2: The number and percentage of people sentenced for the principal offence of causing serious injury recklessly by the most common offences that were sentenced and the average number of those offences that were sentenced, 2010–11 to 2014–15

Offence Number of cases Percentage of cases Average number of proven offences per case
1. Causing serious injury recklessly 483 100.0 1.06
2. Causing injury recklessly 33 6.8 1.09
3. Affray 32 6.6 1.00
4. Aggravated burglary 26 5.4 1.04
5. Intentionally destroy/damage property (criminal damage) 25 5.2 1.32
6. Common law assault 24 5.0 1.50
7. Theft 23 4.8 1.91
8. Make threat to kill 22 4.6 1.14
9. Possess a drug of dependence 20 4.1 1.05
10. Causing injury intentionally 18 3.7 1.33
People sentenced 483 100.0 2.20

Total effective sentence of imprisonment

Figure 6 shows the number of people sentenced to imprisonment for causing serious injury recklessly between 2010–11 and 2014–15 by length of total effective sentence. The length of total effective sentences ranged from 14 days (combined with a community correction order) to 9 years and 6 months, while the median total effective length of imprisonment was 2 years and 10 months (meaning that half of the total effective sentence lengths were below 2 years and 10 months and half were above).

The most common total effective imprisonment length was 2 to less than 3 years (92 people).

Figure 6: The number of people sentenced to imprisonment for causing serious injury recklessly by length of total effective imprisonment term, 2010–11 to 2014–15

Total effective imprisonment length Number of people
Less than 1 year 15
1 to less than 2 years 46
2 to less than 3 years 92
3 to less than 4 years 68
4 to less than 5 years 46
5 to less than 6 years 19
6 to less than 7 years 8
7 to less than 8 years 3
8 to less than 9 years 1
9 to less than 10 years 1
People sentenced 299

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 causing serious injury recklessly.  Sentences and non-parole periods must be considered in this broader context.

Of the 299 people who were sentenced to imprisonment for causing serious injury recklessly, 284 were eligible to have a non-parole period fixed.[10]   Of these people, 267 were given a non-parole period (94%).[11]  Figure 7 shows the number of people sentenced to imprisonment for causing serious injury recklessly between 2010–11 and 2014–15 by length of non-parole period.  Non-parole periods ranged from 3 months to 6 years and 6 months, 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 non-parole period imposed was 1 to less than 2 years (123 people).

Figure 7: The number of people sentenced to imprisonment for causing serious injury recklessly by length of non-parole period, 2010–11 to 2014–15

Non-parole period Number of people
Less than 1 year 38
1 to less than 2 years 123
2 to less than 3 years 72
3 to less than 4 years 23
4 to less than 5 years 8
5 to less than 6 years 2
6 to less than 7 years 1
No non-parole period 29

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 2010–11 to 2014–15.

From 2010–11 to 2014–15, the average length of total effective sentences for all people ranged from 2 years and 4 months in 2014–15 to 3 years and 2 months in 2012–13.  Over the same period, the average length of non-parole periods ranged from 1 year and 7 months in 2010–11 to 2 years in 2014–15.

Figure 8: The average total effective sentence and the average non-parole period imposed on people sentenced to imprisonment for causing serious injury recklessly, 2010–11 to 2014–15

Financial year Average total effective length Average non-parole period
2010–11 2 years, 11 months 1 year, 7 months
2011–12 3 years, 1 month 1 year, 9 months
2012–13 3 years, 2 months 1 year, 10 months
2013–14 2 years, 11 months 1 year, 9 months
2014–15 2 years, 4 months 2 years, 0 months

Total effective sentence of imprisonment by non-parole period

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

Summary

Between 2010–11 and 2014–15, 483 people were sentenced for causing serious injury recklessly in the higher courts.  Of these people, 299 (62%) were given a principal sentence of imprisonment.

The number and range of offences for which people with a principal offence of causing serious injury recklessly 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 10 months while the median principal imprisonment length was 2 years and 6 months.

Total effective imprisonment lengths ranged from 14 days (combined with a community correction order) to 9 years and 6 months, and non-parole periods (where imposed) ranged from 3 months to 6 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 or not guilty because of mental impairment. However, these orders 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. 157, which describes sentencing trends for causing serious injury recklessly between 2008–09 and 2012–13.

[2] Data on first-instance sentence outcomes presented in this Snapshot were obtained from the Strategic Analysis and Review Team at Court Services Victoria. Data on appeal outcomes were collected by the Sentencing Advisory Council from the Australasian Legal Information Institute (external link opens in a new window), and also were provided by the Victorian Court of Appeal. 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 17.

[4] The value of a penalty unit changes each year and can be found in the Victorian Government Gazette and on the Victorian Legislation and Parliamentary Documents website (external link opens in a new window).

[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, partially suspended sentence, youth justice centre order, mix (imprisonment and community correction order), aggregate imprisonment, mix (aggregate imprisonment and community correction order), mix (imprisonment and community-based order), custodial supervision order, and aggregate youth justice centre order.

[7] Refer to endnote 5.

[8] This total includes the people in Table 1 who received a sentence of imprisonment, aggregate imprisonment, mix (imprisonment and community correction order), mix (imprisonment and community-based order), and mix (aggregate imprisonment and community correction order).

[9] 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 3 only deals with sentences of imprisonment for the principal proven offence of causing serious injury recklessly. During the 2010–11 to 2014–15 period, 5 people received an aggregate form of imprisonment.

[10] A total of 15 people were not eligible for parole because they were given a total effective sentence length of less than one year.

[11] Three people 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 determine 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 14 people who were eligible for a non-parole period.