Sentencing Trends for Culpable Driving Causing Death in the Higher Courts of Victoria 2011–12 to 2015–16

Sentencing Snapshot 200
Date of Publication: 
27 April 2017

Sentencing Snapshot no. 200 describes sentencing outcomes for the offence of culpable driving causing death in the County and Supreme Courts of Victoria from 2011–12 to 2015–16.

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
© State of Victoria, Sentencing Advisory Council, 2017

Introduction

This Sentencing Snapshot describes sentencing outcomes[1] for the offence of culpable driving causing death in the County and Supreme Courts of Victoria from 2011–12 to 2015–16.[2] Adjustments made by the Court of Appeal to sentence or conviction as at December 2016 have been incorporated into the data in this Snapshot.

Detailed data on culpable driving causing death and other offences is available on SACStat – Higher Courts.

This offence covers homicides caused by the culpable driving of a motor vehicle. This offence is committed when 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 0.6% of cases sentenced in the higher courts from 2011–12 to 2015–16.

People sentenced

From 2011–12 to 2015–16, 56 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 6 people sentenced for this offence in 2015–16, down by 1 person 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, 2011–12 to 2015–16

Financial year Total
2011–12 9
2012–13 18
2013–14 16
2014–15 7
2015–16 6
Total 56

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 imprisonment or detention.[6] Over the five-year period, 91% of people were given an immediate custodial sentence.

Figure 2: The number of people sentenced for culpable driving causing death and the number that received an immediate custodial sentence, 2011–12 to 2015–16

Financial year Custodial Non-custodial Total
2011–12 8 1 9
2012–13 16 2 18
2013–14 15 1 16
2014–15 7 0 7
2015–16 5 1 6
Total 51 5 56

Table 1 shows the number of people sentenced for culpable driving causing death from 2011–12 to 2015–16 by the types of sentences imposed. The availability of different sentence types has changed over time. Most notably, wholly and partially suspended sentences have now been abolished.[7]

Over the five-year period, the majority of the people sentenced for culpable driving causing death received a period of imprisonment (88% or 49 of 56 people). Of these, 46 people received imprisonment and 3 people received an aggregate sentence of imprisonment.

The percentage of people who received any form of imprisonment for culpable driving causing death peaked at 100% (7 of 7 people) in 2014–15, while the number was highest in 2013–14 (94% or 15 of 16 people). The percentage of people who received imprisonment for culpable driving causing death was lowest in 2012–13 (78% or 14 of 18 people), while the number was lowest in 2015–16 (83% or 5 of 6 people).

Table 1: The number and percentage of people sentenced for culpable driving causing death by sentence type, 2011–12 to 2015–16 (in descending order of numbers for 2015–16)

Sentence type 2011–12 2012–13 2013–14 2014–15 2015–16 Total
Imprisonment 8 (89%) 12 (67%) 14 (88%) 7 (100%) 5 (83%) 46 (82%)
Aggregate wholly suspended sentence 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (17%) 1 (2%)
Aggregate imprisonment 0 (–) 2 (11%) 1 (6%) 0 (–) 0 (–) 3 (5%)
Wholly suspended sentence 1 (11%) 1 (6%) 1 (6%) 0 (–) 0 (–) 3 (5%)
Youth justice centre order 0 (–) 2 (11%) 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 2 (4%)
Non-custodial supervision order 0 (–) 1 (6%) 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (2%)
People sentenced 9 18 16 7 6 56

Age and gender of people sentenced

Data on the age and gender of people sentenced for culpable driving causing death is 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 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 is 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 2011–12 to 2015–16.

Principal sentence of imprisonment

A total of 49 people received a principal sentence of imprisonment for culpable driving causing death from 2011–12 to 2015–16.[9]

Figure 3 shows these people by the length of their imprisonment term.[10] Imprisonment terms ranged from 4 years to 10 years and 6 months, while the median length of imprisonment was 5 years and 6 months (meaning that half of the imprisonment terms were shorter than 5 years and 6 months and half were longer).

The most common length of imprisonment imposed was 5 to less than 6 years (18 people).

Figure 3: The number of people sentenced to imprisonment for culpable driving causing death by length of imprisonment term, 2011–12 to 2015–16

Imprisonment length Number of people
4 to less than 5 years 6
5 to less than 6 years 18
6 to less than 7 years 10
7 to less than 8 years 7
8 to less than 9 years 3
9 to less than 10 years 0
10 to less than 11 years 2
People sentenced 46

As shown in Figure 4, the average (mean) length of imprisonment imposed on people sentenced for culpable driving causing death ranged from 5 years and 8 months in 2012–13 to 6 years and 2 months in 2014–15.

Figure 4: The average (mean) length of imprisonment imposed on people sentenced for culpable driving causing death, 2011–12 to 2015–16

Financial year Number of people Average length of imprisonment term
2011–12 8 5 years, 9 months
2012–13 12 5 years, 8 months
2013–14 14 5 years, 11 months
2014–15 7 6 years, 2 months
2015–16 5 6 years, 1 month

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 imposed. The number of sentenced offences per person ranged from 1 to 8, while the median was 2 offences. There were 17 people (30.4%) sentenced for the single offence of culpable driving causing death. The average number of offences per person sentenced for culpable driving causing death was 2.93.

Figure 5: The number of people sentenced for the principal offence of culpable driving causing death by the number of sentenced offences per person, 2011–12 to 2015–16

Number of offences Number of people
1 17
2 16
3 3
4 6
5+ 14
Total 56

Table 2 shows the 10 most common offences for people sentenced for culpable driving causing death by number and percentage. The last column sets out the average number of offences sentenced per person. For example, 19 of the total 56 people (33.9%) also received sentences for negligently causing serious injury. On average, they were sentenced for 2.11 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 that were sentenced and the average number of those offences that were sentenced, 2011–12 to 2015–16

Offence Number of cases Percentage of cases Average number of proven offences per case
1. Culpable driving causing death 56 100.0 1.21
2. Negligently causing serious injury 19 33.9 2.11
3. Drive while disqualified or suspended 7 12.5 1.14
4. Reckless conduct endangering persons 5 8.9 1.60
5. Theft 5 8.9 1.40
6. Unlicenced driving 5 8.9 1.00
7. Reckless conduct endangering life 4 7.1 1.00
8. Possess a drug of dependence 2 3.6 1.00
9. Causing injury intentionally 1 1.8 2.00
10. Fail to stop after a motor vehicle accident 1 1.8 2.00
  People sentenced 56 100.0 2.93

Total effective sentence of imprisonment

Figure 6 shows the number of people sentenced to imprisonment for culpable driving causing death from 2011–12 to 2015–16 by length of total effective imprisonment term. The total effective imprisonment terms ranged from 3 years and 9 months to 16 years, while the median total effective imprisonment term was 6 years and 4 months (meaning that half of the total effective imprisonment terms were below 6 years and 4 months and half were above).

The most common total effective imprisonment term was 6 to less than 7 years (13 people).

Figure 6: The number of people sentenced to imprisonment for culpable driving causing death by length of total effective imprisonment term, 2011–12 to 2015–16

Total effective imprisonment length Number of people
3 to less than 4 years 1
4 to less than 5 years 3
5 to less than 6 years 10
6 to less than 7 years 13
7 to less than 8 years 9
8 to less than 9 years 3
9 to less than 10 years 3
10 to less than 11 years 5
11 to less than 12 years 1
12 to less than 13 years 0
13 to less than 14 years 0
14 to less than 15 years 0
15 to less than 16 years 0
16 to less than 17 years 1
People sentenced 49

Non-parole period

If a person is sentenced to a term of immediate imprisonment of less than 1 year, the court cannot impose a non-parole period. For terms between 1 year and less than 2 years, the court has the discretion to fix a non-parole period. For terms of imprisonment of 2 years or more, the court must impose a non-parole period in most circumstances. 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 in custody.

Of the 49 people who were sentenced to imprisonment for culpable driving causing death, all were given a non-parole period. Figure 7 shows the number of people sentenced to imprisonment for culpable driving causing death from 2011–12 to 2015–16 by length of non-parole period. Non-parole periods ranged from 1 year and 6 months to 11 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 non-parole period imposed was 3 to less than 4 years (15 people).

Figure 7: The number of people sentenced to imprisonment for culpable driving causing death by length of non-parole period, 2011–12 to 2015–16

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 15
4 to less than 5 years 8
5 to less than 6 years 8
6 to less than 7 years 5
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 0
11 to less than 12 years 1
Total people 49

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 2011–12 to 2015–16.

From 2011–12 to 2015–16, the average length of total effective sentences for all people ranged from 6 years and 5 months in 2012–13 to 8 years and 8 months in 2015–16. Over the same period, the average length of non-parole periods ranged from 4 years and 1 month in 2012–13 to 5 years and 8 months in 2015–16.

Further data on total effective sentences of imprisonment and corresponding non-parole periods for culpable driving causing death is available on SACStat – Higher Courts.

Figure 8: The average total effective sentence and the average non-parole period imposed on people sentenced to imprisonment for culpable driving causing death, 2011–12 to 2015–16

Financial year Average total effective length Average non-parole period
2011–12 7 years, 1 month 4 years, 5 months
2012–13 6 years, 5 months 4 years, 1 month
2013–14 6 years, 10 months 4 years, 3 months
2014–15 7 years, 3 months 4 years, 7 months
2015–16 8 years, 8 months 5 years, 8 months

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

From 2011–12 to 2015–16, 56 people were sentenced for culpable driving causing death in the higher courts. Of these people, 49 (88%) were given a principal sentence of imprisonment.

The number and range of offences for which people with a culpable driving causing death offence 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 6 years and 4 months while the median principal imprisonment length was 5 years and 6 months.

Total effective imprisonment lengths ranged from 3 years and 9 months to 16 years, and non-parole periods (where imposed) ranged from 1 year and 6 months to 11 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 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. 173, which describes sentencing trends for culpable driving causing death from 2009–10 to 2013–14.

[2] Data on first instance sentence outcomes presented in this Snapshot was obtained from the Strategic Analysis and Review Team at Court Services Victoria. Data on appeal outcomes was collected by the Sentencing Advisory Council from the Australasian Legal Information Institute, and also was 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 is accurate, the data is 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 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 include imprisonment, aggregate imprisonment and youth justice centre orders.

[7] Suspended sentences have been abolished in the higher courts for all offences committed on or after 1 September 2013 and in the Magistrates’ Court for all offences committed on or after 1 September 2014.

[8] Refer to Endnote 5.

[9] This total includes the people in Table 1 who received a sentence of imprisonment and aggregate imprisonment.

[10] Data presented in this section does 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 culpable driving causing death. From 2011–12 to 2015–16, 3 people received an aggregate form of imprisonment.