Sentencing Trends for Manslaughter in the Higher Courts of Victoria 2013-14 to 2017-18

Sentencing Snapshot 224
Date of Publication: 
9 April 2019

Sentencing Snapshot no. 224 describes sentencing outcomes for the offence of manslaughter in the Supreme Court of Victoria from 2013-14 to 2017-18.

This is the most recent 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, 2019

Introduction

This Sentencing Snapshot describes sentencing outcomes1 for the offence of manslaughter in the Supreme Court of Victoria from 2013–14 to 2017–18.2 Adjustments made by the Court of Appeal to sentence or conviction as at June 2018 have been incorporated into the data in this Snapshot.3

Detailed data on manslaughter and other offences is available on Sentencing Advisory Council Statistics Online (SACStat).

The offence of manslaughter applies when a person kills another person in circumstances where the offender’s culpability is less than that required to constitute murder.4 Manslaughter is an indictable offence that carries a maximum penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment5 and/or a fine of 2,400 penalty units.6 Manslaughter is a Category 2 offence, which means that a court cannot impose a non-custodial sentence, except in particular circumstances.7

Manslaughter was the principal offence8 in 0.8% of cases sentenced in the higher courts between 2013–14 and 2017–18.

People sentenced

From 2013–14 to 2017–18, 69 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 15 people sentenced for this offence in 2017–18, up by 2 people from the previous year. The number of people sentenced was highest in 2015–16 (19 people) and lowest in 2014–15 (10 people).

Figure 1: The number of people sentenced for manslaughter by financial year, 2013–14 to 2017–18

Financial Year Total
2013-14 12
2014-15 10
2015-16 19
2016-17 13
2017-18 15
Total 69

Sentence types and trends

Figure 2 shows the total number of people sentenced for manslaughter and the number receiving an immediate custodial sentence. An immediate custodial sentence involves at least some element of immediate imprisonment or detention.9 Over the five-year period, 99% of people were given an immediate custodial sentence.

Figure 2: The number of people sentenced for manslaughter and the number receiving an immediate custodial sentence, 2013–14 to 2017–18

Financial Year Immediate custodial sentence People sentenced
2013-14 11 12
2014-15 10 10
2015-16 19 19
2016-17 13 13
2017-18 15 15
Total 68 69

Table 1 shows the number of people sentenced for manslaughter 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.10 Changes to community correction orders have also influenced sentencing trends over the five years covered by this Snapshot.11

Over the five-year period, the majority of people sentenced for manslaughter received a principal sentence of imprisonment (99% or 68 of 69 people). Of these, 67 people (97%) received a sentence of imprisonment alone, and 1 person (1%) received imprisonment combined with a community correction order. The principal sentence is the sentence imposed for the charge that is the principal offence.12

The principal sentence of imprisonment for manslaughter constituted 100% of the sentencing outcomes over the five year period, aside from 2013–14.

Table 1: The number and percentage of people sentenced for manslaughter, by sentence type, 2013–14 to 2017–18

Sentence type 2013–14 2014–15 2015–16 2016–17 2017–18 Total
Imprisonment 11 (92%) 10 (100%) 18 (95%) 13 (100%) 15 (100%) 67 (97%)
Imprisonment and community correction order (combined) 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (5%) 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (1%)
Wholly suspended sentence 1 (8%) 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (1%)
People sentenced 12 10 19 13 15 69

Principal and total effective sentences

In this section, two methods are used to describe sentence lengths. One method relates to the principal sentence and describes sentences for the offence at a charge level. The other relates to the total effective sentence and describes sentences for the offence at a case level (the principal sentence is described above).

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).

Where a case involves multiple charges, the total effective sentence imposed on a person is sometimes 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 2013–14 to 2017–18.

Principal sentence of imprisonment

All 68 people who received a principal sentence of imprisonment for manslaughter were sentenced to a non-aggregate term of imprisonment. One person received a community correction order in addition to their non-aggregate term of imprisonment.

Figure 3 shows the length of the imprisonment terms for these people. Imprisonment terms ranged from 1 year, 5 months and 19 days (combined with a community correction order) to 12 years, while the median length of imprisonment was 8 years (meaning that half of the imprisonment terms were below 8 years and half were above).

The most common length of imprisonment was 8 to less than 9 years (16 people).

Figure 3: The number of people sentenced to imprisonment for manslaughter by length of imprisonment term, 2013–14 to 2017–18

Imprisonment length Number of people
1 to less than 2 years 1
2 to less than 3 years 0
3 to less than 4 years 2
4 to less than 5 years 2
5 to less than 6 years 6
6 to less than 7 years 4
7 to less than 8 years 8
8 to less than 9 years 16
9 to less than 10 years 12
10 to less than 11 years 9
11 to less than 12 years 6
12 to less than 13 years 2
People sentenced 68

As shown in Figure 4, the average (mean) length of imprisonment imposed on people sentenced for manslaughter ranged from 6 years and 11 months in 2013–14 to 9 years in 2017–18. The average for 2017–18 reflects the highest average imprisonment length over the five years.

Figure 4: The average (mean) length of imprisonment imposed on people sentenced for manslaughter, 2013–14 to 2017–18

Financial year Number of people Average length of imprisonment term
2013-14 11 6y, 11m
2014-15 10 8y, 11m
2015-16 19 7y, 1m
2016-17 13 8y, 6m
2017-18 15 9y, 0m

Other offences finalised at the same hearing

Sometimes people prosecuted for manslaughter face multiple charges, which are finalised at the same hearing. This section looks at the range of offences that offenders were sentenced for alongside the principal offence of manslaughter. The section includes data on all people sentenced for a principal offence of manslaughter, not just those who received imprisonment.

Figure 5 shows the number of people sentenced for the principal offence of manslaughter by the total number of sentenced offences per person. The number of sentenced offences per person ranged from 1 to 12, while the median was 1 offence. There were 51 people (73.9%) sentenced for the single offence of manslaughter. The average number of offences per person was 1.58.

Figure 5: The number of people sentenced for the principal offence of manslaughter, by the number of sentenced offences per person, 2013–14 to 2017–18

Number of offences Number of people
1 51
2 12
3 3
4 0
5-9 2
10+ 1
Total 69

Table 2 shows the 10 most common offences, by number and percentage, for people sentenced for manslaughter. The last column sets out the average number of offences sentenced per person. For example, 4 of the total 69 people (5.8%) also received sentences for arson. On average, they were sentenced for 1 count of arson.

Table 2: The number and percentage of people sentenced for the principal offence of manslaughter by the most common offences that were sentenced and the average number of those offences that were sentenced, 2013–14 to 2017–18

Offence Number of cases Percentage of cases Average number of proven offences per case
1. Manslaughter 69 100% 1.00
2. Arson 4 5.8% 1.00
3. Theft 3 4.3% 3.00
4. Causing injury recklessly 2 2.9% 1.00
5. Causing serious injury recklessly 2 2.9% 1.00
6. Common law assault 1 1.4% 5.00
7. Burglary 1 1.4% 4.00
8. Possess a drug of dependence 1 1.4% 2.00
9. Aggravated burglary 1 1.4% 1.00
10. Possess, use or carry a prohibited weapon (other than an imitation firearm) 1 1.4% 1.00
People sentenced 69 100% 1.58

Total effective imprisonment terms

Figure 6 shows the number of people sentenced to imprisonment for manslaughter by length of total effective imprisonment term. The total effective imprisonment terms ranged from 1 year, 5 months and 19 days (combined with a community correction order) to 13 years, while the median total effective imprisonment term was 8 years and 3 months (meaning that half of the total effective imprisonment terms were below 8 years and 3 months and half were above).

The most common total effective imprisonment term 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, 2013–14 to 2017–18

Total effective imprisonment length Number of people
1 to less than 2 years 1
2 to less than 3 years 0
3 to less than 4 years 1
4 to less than 5 years 3
5 to less than 6 years 4
6 to less than 7 years 5
7 to less than 8 years 7
8 to less than 9 years 17
9 to less than 10 years 11
10 to less than 11 years 9
11 to less than 12 years 3
12 to less than 13 years 6
13 to less than 14 years 1
People sentenced 68

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. If the court fixes a non-parole period, the person must serve that period before becoming eligible for parole. If the court does not set a non-parole period, the person must serve the entirety of their imprisonment term in custody.

All 68 people who were sentenced to imprisonment for manslaughter were eligible to have a non-parole period fixed. Of these people, 67 were given a non-parole period (99%). The one person who was not given a non-parole period received a sentence of imprisonment combined with a community correction order. Figure 7 shows the number of people sentenced to imprisonment for manslaughter by length of non-parole period. Non-parole periods ranged from 2 years to 10 years, while the median non-parole period was 5 years and 6 months (meaning that half of the non-parole periods were below 5 years and 6 months and half were above).

The most common non-parole period was 6 to less than 7 years (15 people).

Figure 7: The number of people sentenced to imprisonment for manslaughter by length of non-parole period, 2013–14 to 2017–18

Non-parole period Number of people
2 to less than 3 years 4
3 to less than 4 years 5
4 to less than 5 years 11
5 to less than 6 years 14
6 to less than 7 years 15
7 to less than 8 years 9
8 to less than 9 years 3
9 to less than 10 years 5
10 to less than 11 years 1
No non-parole period 1
Total people 68

Total effective sentences of imprisonment and non-parole periods

Figure 8 compares the average length of total effective sentences of imprisonment with the average length of non-parole periods.

From 2013–14 to 2017–18, the average length of total effective sentences for all people ranged from 7 years and 3 months in 2015–16 to 9 years and 2 months in 2017–18. Over the same period, the average length of non-parole periods ranged from 4 years and 10 months in 2013–14 to 6 years and 2 months in 2017–18. The average total effective sentence length and non-parole period in 2017–18 represent the highest averages over the five years.

Figure 8: The average total effective sentence and the average non-parole period imposed on people sentenced to imprisonment for manslaughter, 2013–14 to 2017–18

Financial year Average total effective length Average non-parole period
2013-14 7y, 5m 4y, 10m
2014-15 8y, 11m 5y, 10m
2015-16 7y, 3m 5y, 3m
2016-17 9y, 0m 6y, 0m
2017-18 9y, 2m 6y, 2m

Further data on total effective sentences of imprisonment and corresponding non-parole periods for manslaughter is available on SACStat.

Summary

From 2013–14 to 2017–18, 69 people were sentenced for manslaughter in the higher courts. Of these people, 68 (99%) were given a principal sentence of imprisonment.

People with a principal offence of manslaughter were sometimes sentenced for other offences. The number and range of those offences 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 8 years and 3 months, while the median principal imprisonment length was 8 years.

Total effective imprisonment lengths ranged from 1 year, 5 months and 19 days (combined with a community correction order) to 13 years, and non-parole periods (where imposed) ranged from 2 years to 10 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 in which the accused 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. 199, which describes sentencing trends for manslaughter between 2011–12 and 2015–16.

2. Data on first-instance sentencing outcomes 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 was also 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. In October 2017, the High Court delivered its judgment in Director of Public Prosecutions v Dalgliesh (A Pseudonym) [2017] HCA 41, in which it made two important findings about sentencing in Victoria. First, Victorian courts had been giving too much weight to current sentencing practices, which is just one of the factors courts are required to take into account when imposing a sentence. Second, where current sentencing practices are shown to be in error (for example, when they fail to adequately reflect community expectations) courts should change their practices immediately, not incrementally.

Although the High Court’s decision only occurred during the last financial year of this Snapshot, it may result in considerable changes to sentencing patterns for future editions of the Snapshots.

4. Deaths caused by the culpable driving of a motor vehicle are not covered by the offence of manslaughter.

5. Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) s 5.

6. 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.

7. Sentencing Act 1991 (Vic) s 5(2H) requires a custodial sentence (imprisonment or another form of custody) to be imposed for this offence when committed on or after 20 March 2017, unless special reasons exist. If special reasons do not apply, then the court is not allowed to impose an order of imprisonment combined with a community correction order or another non-custodial order, such as a community correction order or a fine.

8. 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.

9. An immediate custodial sentence includes imprisonment and imprisonment combined with a community correction order.

10. 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.

11. For example, initially the maximum term of imprisonment that could be combined with a community correction order was set at 3 months, but it was increased to 2 years in September 2014 and reduced to 1 year in March 2017.

12. Refer to Endnote 8.