Sentencing Trends for Obtaining Property by Deception in the Higher Courts of Victoria 2013-14 to 2017-18

Sentencing Snapshot 228
Date of Publication: 
9 April 2019

Sentencing Snapshot no. 228 describes sentencing outcomes for the offence of obtaining property by deception in the County and Supreme Courts 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 obtaining property by deception in the County and Supreme Courts 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 obtaining property by deception and other offences is available on Sentencing Advisory Council Statistics Online (SACStat).

A person who, by any deception, dishonestly takes property belonging to another person with the intention of permanently depriving that person is guilty of obtaining property by deception. Obtaining property by deception is an indictable offence that carries a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment4 and/or a fine of 1,200 penalty units.5 Indictable offences are more serious offences triable before a judge and jury in the County or Supreme Court. Obtaining property by deception can also be tried summarily by the Magistrates’ Court if the property involved meets certain criteria, the Magistrates’ Court considers it appropriate and the accused consents.

Obtaining property by deception was the principal offence6 in 0.9% of cases sentenced in the higher courts between 2013–14 and 2017–18.

People sentenced

From 2013–14 to 2017–18, 77 people were sentenced in the higher courts for a principal offence of obtaining property by deception.

Figure 1 shows the number of people sentenced for the principal offence of obtaining property by deception, by financial year. There were 15 people sentenced for this offence in 2017–18, up by 1 person from the previous year. The number of people sentenced was highest in 2013–14 (19 people) and lowest in 2015–16 (12 people).

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

Financial Year Total
2013-14 19
2014-15 17
2015-16 12
2016-17 14
2017-18 15
Total 77

Sentence types and trends

Figure 2 shows the total number of people sentenced for obtaining property by deception and the number receiving an immediate custodial sentence. An immediate custodial sentence involves at least some element of immediate imprisonment or detention.7 Over the five-year period, 66% of people were given an immediate custodial sentence.

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

Financial Year Immediate custodial sentence People sentenced
2013-14 13 19
2014-15 12 17
2015-16 6 12
2016-17 9 14
2017-18 11 15
Total 51 77

Table 1 shows the number of people sentenced for obtaining property by deception by the types of sentences imposed. Most notably, wholly and partially suspended sentences have now been abolished.8 Changes to community correction orders have also influenced sentencing trends over the five years covered by this Snapshot.9

Over the five-year period, the majority of the people sentenced for obtaining property by deception received a principal sentence of imprisonment (58% or 45 of 77 people). Of these, 23 people received a sentence of imprisonment alone, 8 received imprisonment combined with a community correction order, 10 received aggregate imprisonment and the remaining 4 received an aggregate sentence of imprisonment combined with a community correction order. The principal sentence is the sentence imposed for the charge that is the principal offence.10

The percentage of people receiving any form of imprisonment for obtaining property by deception gradually increased, from 47% of sentencing outcomes in 2013–14 to 73% in 2017–18. Similarly, community correction orders (without imprisonment) increased over the same period, from 5% in 2013–14 to 20% in 2017–18.

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

Sentence type 2013–14 2014–15 2015–16 2016–17 2017–18 Total
Imprisonment 7 (37%) 6 (35%) 4 (33%) 3 (21%) 3 (20%) 23 (30%)
Community correction order 1 (5%) 4 (24%) 5 (42%) 4 (29%) 3 (20%) 17 (22%)
Aggregate imprisonment 1 (5%) 2 (12%) 0 (–) 2 (14%) 5 (33%) 10 (13%)
Imprisonment and community correction order (combined) 1 (5%) 2 (12%) 2 (17%) 1 (7%) 2 (13%) 8 (10%)
Aggregate imprisonment and community correction order (combined) 0 (–) 2 (12%) 0 (–) 1 (7%) 1 (7%) 4 (5%)
Partially suspended sentence 4 (21%) 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 4 (5%)
Wholly suspended sentence 4 (21%) 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 4 (5%)
Aggregate partially suspended sentence 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 2 (14%) 0 (–) 2 (3%)
Aggregate wholly suspended sentence 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (8%) 0 (–) 1 (7%) 2 (3%)
Aggregate fine 1 (5%) 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (1%)
Community correction order and aggregate fine (combined) 0 (–) 1 (6%) 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (1%)
Adjourned undertaking without conviction 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (7%) 0 (–) 1 (1%)
People sentenced 19 17 12 14 15 77

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 obtaining property by deception must be considered in this broader context.

The following sections analyse the use of imprisonment for the offence of obtaining property by deception from 2013–14 to 2017–18.

Principal sentence of imprisonment

A total of 45 people received a principal sentence of imprisonment for obtaining property by deception. Of these, 31 people received a non-aggregate term of imprisonment and 14 people received an aggregate term. There were 12 people who received a community correction order in addition to their term of imprisonment.

Figure 3 shows the length of imprisonment for the people who received a non-aggregate term.11 Imprisonment terms ranged from 2 months and 17 days (combined with a community correction order) to 4 years, while the median length of imprisonment was 1 year and 8 months (meaning that half of the imprisonment terms were below 1 year and 8 months and half were above).

The most common length of imprisonment was 3 to less than 4 years (10 people).

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

Imprisonment length Number of people
Less than 1 year 7
1 to less than 2 years 9
2 to less than 3 years 4
3 to less than 4 years 10
4 to less than 5 years 1
People sentenced 31

As shown in Figure 4, the average (mean) length of imprisonment imposed on people sentenced for obtaining property by deception ranged from 1 year and 5 months in 2017–18 to 2 years and 4 months in 2014–15. The average length of imprisonment for the principal offence of obtaining property by deception gradually declined from a peak of 2 years and 4 months in 2014–15 to 1 year and 5 months in 2017–18.

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

Financial year Number of people Average length of imprisonment term
2013-14 8 1y, 8m
2014-15 8 2y, 4m
2015-16 6 1y, 9m
2016-17 4 1y, 8m
2017-18 5 1y, 5m

Other offences finalised at the same hearing

Sometimes people prosecuted for obtaining property by deception 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 obtaining property by deception. The section includes data on all people sentenced for a principal offence of obtaining property by deception, not just those who received imprisonment.

Figure 5 shows the number of people sentenced for the principal offence of obtaining property by deception by the total number of offences per person. The number of sentenced offences per person ranged from 1 to 60, while the median was 5 offences. There were 6 people (7.8%) sentenced for the single offence of obtaining property by deception. The average number of offences per person was 8.56.

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

Number of offences Number of people
1 6
2 14
3 7
4 6
5-9 28
10-19 7
20-49 7
50+ 2
Total 77

Table 2 shows the 10 most common offences, by number and percentage, for people sentenced for obtaining property by deception. The last column sets out the average number of offences sentenced per person. For example, 17 of the total 77 people (22.1%) also received sentences for attempting to obtain property by deception. On average, they were sentenced for 3.35 counts of attempting to obtain property by deception.

Table 2: The number and percentage of people sentenced for the principal offence of obtaining property by deception, 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. Obtaining property by deception 77 100% 5.10
2. Attempt to obtain property by deception 17 22.1% 3.35
3. Obtaining a financial advantage by deception 15 19.5% 4.07
4. Theft 10 13.0% 3.40
5. Deal with property suspected of being proceeds of crime 5 6.5% 2.80
6. Possess a drug of dependence 5 6.5% 1.40
7. Drive while disqualified or suspended 4 5.2% 3.00
8. Attempt to obtain a financial advantage by deception 4 5.2% 2.25
9. Commit an indictable offence while on bail 4 5.2% 1.25
10. Fail to answer bail 4 5.2% 1.25
People sentenced 77 100% 8.56

Total effective imprisonment terms

Figure 6 shows the number of people sentenced to imprisonment for obtaining property by deception, by length of total effective imprisonment term. The total effective imprisonment terms ranged from 1 month (combined with a community correction order) to 8 years and 6 months, while the median total effective imprisonment term was 2 years and 3 months (meaning that half of the total effective imprisonment terms were below 2 years and 3 months and half were above).

The most common total effective imprisonment terms were less than 1 year and 1 to less than 2 years (9 people each).

Figure 6: The number of people sentenced to imprisonment for obtaining property by deception, by length of total effective imprisonment term, 2013–14 to 2017–18

Total effective imprisonment length Number of people
Less than 1 year 9
1 to less than 2 years 9
2 to less than 3 years 8
3 to less than 4 years 3
4 to less than 5 years 3
5 to less than 6 years 6
6 to less than 7 years 5
7 to less than 8 years 1
8 to less than 9 years 1
People sentenced 45

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.

Of the 45 people who were sentenced to imprisonment for obtaining property by deception, 36 were eligible to have a non-parole period fixed.12 Of these people, 31 were given a non-parole period (86%).13 Figure 7 shows the number of people sentenced to imprisonment for obtaining property by deception by length of non-parole period. Non-parole periods ranged from 4 months to 5 years and 6 months, while the median non-parole period was 2 years and 3 months (meaning that half of the non-parole periods were below 2 years and 3 months and half were above).

The most common non-parole period was 1 to less than 2 years (11 people); however, the most common outcome was that no non-parole period was imposed (14 people).

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

Non-parole period Number of people
Less than 1 year 2
1 to less than 2 years 11
2 to less than 3 years 4
3 to less than 4 years 9
4 to less than 5 years 3
5 to less than 6 years 2
No non-parole period 14
Total people 45

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 2 years in 2017–18 to 3 years and 9 months in 2016–17. Over the same period, the average length of non-parole periods ranged from 1 year and 8 months in 2017–18 to 3 years in 2016–17.

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

Financial year Average total effective length Average non-parole period
2013-14 2y, 7m 1y, 11m
2014-15 3y, 7m 2y, 11m
2015-16 2y, 9m 2y, 6m
2016-17 3y, 9m 3y, 0m
2017-18 2y, 0m 1y, 8m

Further data on total effective sentences of imprisonment and corresponding non-parole periods for obtaining property by deception is available on SACStat. Data on the length of non-imprisonment sentence types, such as community correction orders and fines, is also available on SACStat.

Summary

From 2013–14 to 2017–18, 77 people were sentenced for obtaining property by deception in the higher courts. Of these people, 45 (58%) were given a principal sentence of imprisonment.

People with a principal offence of obtaining property by deception 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 2 years and 3 months, while the median principal imprisonment length was 1 year and 8 months.

Total effective imprisonment lengths ranged from 1 month (combined with a community correction order) to 8 years and 6 months, and non-parole periods (where imposed) ranged from 4 months to 5 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 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. 204, which describes sentencing trends for obtaining property by deception 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. Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) s 81.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. An immediate custodial sentence includes aggregate imprisonment, imprisonment, imprisonment combined with a community correction order, aggregate imprisonment combined with a community correction order, a partially suspended sentence and an aggregate partially suspended sentence.

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. Refer to Endnote 6.

11. 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 Figures 3 and 4 only deal with sentences of imprisonment for the principal offence of obtaining property by deception.

12. A total of 9 people were not eligible to have a non-parole period fixed because they were given a total effective sentence length of less than 1 year.

13. A non-parole period was not set for 5 people who were eligible for a non-parole period.