Sentencing Snapshot 263: Sentencing Trends for Causing Serious Injury Intentionally in the Higher Courts of Victoria 2016-17 to 2020-21

Date of Publication

Sentencing Snapshot no. 263 describes sentencing outcomes for the offence of causing serious injury intentionally in the County and Supreme Courts of Victoria from 2016-17 to 2020-21.

This is the most recent Snapshot for this offence.

You can also access statistics for causing serious injury intentionally on SACStat.

Authored and published by the Sentencing Advisory Council
© State of Victoria, Sentencing Advisory Council, 2021


Snapshot 263: Causing Serious Injury Intentionally

Introduction

This Sentencing Snapshot describes sentencing outcomes[1] for the offence of causing serious injury intentionally[2] in the County and Supreme Courts of Victoria (the higher courts) from 2016-17 to 2020-21.[3] Adjustments made by the Court of Appeal to sentence or conviction as at June 2021 have been incorporated into the data in this Snapshot.

Detailed data on causing serious injury intentionally and other offences is available on Sentencing Advisory Council Statistics (SACStat).

A person who intentionally causes serious injury to another person without lawful excuse is guilty of this offence. Causing serious injury intentionally is an indictable offence that carries a maximum penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment and/or a fine of 2,400 penalty units.[4]

If the offence was committed on or after 28 October 2018 and the victim was on duty as an emergency worker, custodial officer or youth justice worker, it is a Category 1 offence, meaning courts must almost always impose a custodial sentence.[5] If the offence was committed between 20 March 2017 and 27 October 2018, or on or after 28 October 2018 and the victim was not on duty as an emergency worker, custodial officer or youth justice worker, it is a Category 2 offence, meaning courts must impose a custodial sentence except in particular circumstances.[6]

This Snapshot focuses on cases where causing serious injury intentionally was the principal offence, that is, cases where causing serious injury intentionally was the offence that received the most severe sentence.[7]

Causing serious injury intentionally was the principal offence in 1.5% of cases sentenced in the higher courts between 2016-17 and 2020-21.

People sentenced

From 2016-17 to 2020-21, 124 people were sentenced in the higher courts for a principal offence of causing serious injury intentionally.

Figure 1 shows the number of people sentenced for the principal offence of causing serious injury intentionally by financial year. The number of people sentenced was highest in 2018-19 (32 people) and lowest in 2020-21 (17 people). The lower number of people sentenced in 2019-20 and 2020-21 was probably influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused delays in court proceedings from March 2020 and throughout the 2020-21 financial year.

Figure 1: The number of people sentenced for causing serious injury intentionally by financial year

Financial Year Total
2016-17 30
2017-18 26
2018-19 32
2019-20 19
2020-21 17
Total 124

Sentence types and trends

Figure 2 shows the proportion of people who received a custodial or non-custodial sentence for the principal offence of causing serious injury intentionally.

A custodial sentence involves at least some element of immediate imprisonment or detention.[8] The rate of custodial sentences was lowest in 2019-20 (78.9%) and highest in 2018-19 (93.8%). Over the five-year period, 90.3% of people were given a custodial sentence.

Figure 2: The percentage of people who received a custodial sentence and non-custodial sentence for causing serious injury intentionally by financial year

Financial Year Immediate custodial sentence Non-custodial sentence
2016-17 93.3% 6.7%
2017-18 92.3% 7.7%
2018-19 93.8% 6.3%
2019-20 78.9% 21.1%
2020-21 88.2% 11.8%
Total 90.3% 9.7%

Table 1 shows the principal sentence imposed for the principal offence of causing serious injury intentionally from 2016-17 to 2020-21.[9] The principal sentence is the most serious sentence imposed for the charge that is the principal offence.[10] The availability of different sentence types has changed over time. Most notably, wholly and partially suspended sentences have now been abolished for offences committed after a certain date.[11] Changes to community correction orders may have also influenced sentencing trends over the five years covered by this Snapshot.[12]

Over the five-year period, more than 80% of all people sentenced for causing serious injury intentionally as the principal offence received a principal sentence of imprisonment (85.5% or 106 of 124 people). The rate of imprisonment sentences was highest in 2017-18 (88.5%) and lowest in 2019-20 (73.7%).

Table 1: The number and percentage of people sentenced for causing serious injury intentionally by principal sentence type and financial year

Sentence type 2016-17 2017-18 2018-19 2019-20 2020-21 Total (2016-17 to 2020-21)
Imprisonment 26 (86.7%) 23 (88.5%) 28 (87.5%) 14 (73.7%) 15 (88.2%) 106 (85.5%)
Community correction order 0 (0.0%) 1 (3.8%) 0 (0.0%) 0 (0.0%) 1 (5.9%) 2 (1.6%)
Youth justice centre order 1 (3.3%) 1 (3.8%) 2 (6.3%) 1 (5.3%) 0 (0.0%) 5 (4.0%)
Other 3 (10.0%) 1 (3.8%) 2 (6.3%) 4 (21.1%) 1 (5.9%) 11 (8.9%)
Total people sentenced 30 26 32 19 17 124

Principal and total effective sentences of imprisonment

The principal sentence describes sentences for the offence at a charge level (as described in the previous section). The total effective sentence describes sentences at a case level.

The total effective sentence in a case with multiple charges receiving imprisonment is the sentence that results from the court ordering the individual sentences of imprisonment to be served concurrently (at the same time) or wholly or partially cumulatively (one after the other). The total effective sentence in a case with a single charge is the principal sentence.

Therefore, where a case involves multiple charges, the total effective sentence imposed on a person is sometimes longer than the principal sentence. Principal sentences for causing serious injury intentionally must be considered in this broader context.

The following sections analyse the use of imprisonment for the offence of causing serious injury intentionally from 2016-17 to 2020-21.

Principal sentence of imprisonment

Table 2 shows that a total of 106 people received a principal sentence of imprisonment for causing serious injury intentionally. Of these, 104 (98.1%) received a non-aggregate term of imprisonment and 2 people received an aggregate term.[13] There were 2 people who received a community correction order in addition to their term of imprisonment.

Table 2: The number and percentage of people sentenced to imprisonment for causing serious injury intentionally by sentence type and financial year

Type of imprisonment sentence 2016-17 2017-18 2018-19 2019-20 2020-21 Total (2016-17 to 2020-21)
Imprisonment 23 (88.5%) 23 (100.0%) 28 (100.0%) 14 (100.0%) 14 (93.3%) 102 (96.2%)
Mix (imprisonment and community correction order) 1 (3.8%) 0 (0.0%) 0 (0.0%) 0 (0.0%) 1 (6.7%) 2 (1.9%)
Total non-aggregate imprisonment 24 (92.3%) 23 (100.0%) 28 (100.0%) 14 (100.0%) 15 (100.0%) 104 (98.1%)
Aggregate imprisonment 2 (7.7%) 0 (0.0%) 0 (0.0%) 0 (0.0%) 0 (0.0%) 2 (1.9%)
Total aggregate imprisonment 2 (7.7%) 0 (0.0%) 0 (0.0%) 0 (0.0%) 0 (0.0%) 2 (1.9%)
Total people sentenced to imprisonment 26 23 28 14 15 106

Figure 3 shows the length of imprisonment for the 104 people who received a non-aggregate term. Imprisonment terms ranged from 1 year to 13 years and 9 months,[14] while the median length of imprisonment was 5 years and 6 months (meaning that half of the imprisonment terms were below 5 years and 6 months and half were above).

The most common range of imprisonment terms was 5 to less than 6 years (21 people).

Figure 3: The number of people sentenced to imprisonment for causing serious injury intentionally by length of imprisonment term, 2016-17 to 2020-21

Imprisonment length Number of people
1 to less than 2 years 3
2 to less than 3 years 5
3 to less than 4 years 11
4 to less than 5 years 18
5 to less than 6 years 21
6 to less than 7 years 20
7 to less than 8 years 7
8 to less than 9 years 9
9 to less than 10 years 6
10 to less than 11 years 2
11 to less than 12 years 0
12 to less than 13 years 1
13 to less than 14 years 1
Total 104

Figure 4 shows the average length of imprisonment imposed on people sentenced for causing serious injury intentionally. Imprisonment terms increased from 5 years in 2016-17 to 6 years and 7 months in 2020-21. Over the five years, the average length of imprisonment for causing serious injury intentionally was 5 years and 7 months.

Figure 4: The average length of imprisonment imposed on people sentenced for causing serious injury intentionally, by financial year

Financial year Number of people Average length of imprisonment term
2016-17 24 5 years and 0 months
2017-18 23 5 years and 7 months
2018-19 28 5 years and 7 months
2019-20 14 5 years and 7 months
2020-21 15 6 years and 7 months

Other offences finalised at the same hearing

Sometimes people prosecuted for causing serious injury intentionally 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 causing serious injury intentionally.

Figure 5 shows the number of people sentenced for the principal offence of causing serious injury intentionally by the total number of sentenced offences per person. The number of sentenced offences per person ranged from 1 to 25, and the median was 2 offences. There were 48 people (38.7%) sentenced for the single offence of causing serious injury intentionally. The average number of offences per person was 3.3.

Figure 5: The number of people sentenced for the principal offence of causing serious injury intentionally by the number of sentenced offences per person, 2016-17 to 2020-21

Number of offences Number of people
1 48
2 23
3 10
4 14
5-9 24
10-19 4
20-49 1
Total 124

Table 3 shows the 10 most common offences, by number and percentage, for people sentenced for causing serious injury intentionally. The last column sets out the average number of offences sentenced per person. For example, 15 of the total 124 people (12.1%) were also sentenced for intentionally causing injury. On average, they were sentenced for 1.7 charges of intentionally causing injury per case.

Table 3: The number and percentage of people sentenced for the principal offence of causing serious injury intentionally by the most common offences that were sentenced and the average number of those offences that were sentenced, 2016-17 to 2020-21

Offence Number of cases Percentage of cases Average number of proven offences per case
1. Causing serious injury intentionally 124 100.0% 1.1
2. Causing injury intentionally 15 12.1% 1.7
3. Theft 12 9.7% 1.8
4. Commit an indictable offence while on bail 12 9.7% 1.1
5. Aggravated burglary 10 8.1% 1.0
6. Intentionally damage property 9 7.3% 1.4
7. Robbery 7 5.6% 2.1
8. Make threat to kill 7 5.6% 1.1
9. Affray 7 5.6% 1.0
10. Common law assault 6 4.8% 1.5
People sentenced 124 100.0% 3.3

Total effective imprisonment terms

Figure 6 shows the 106 people sentenced to imprisonment for causing serious injury intentionally by length of their total effective sentence. Total effective sentences ranged from 1 year to 15 years and 8 months, while the median total effective sentence was 6 years (meaning that half of the total effective sentences were below 6 years and half were above).

The most common ranges of total effective sentences were 5 to less than 6 years and 6 to less than 7 years (20 people each).

Figure 6: The number of people sentenced to imprisonment for causing serious injury intentionally by length of total effective sentence, 2016-17 to 2020-21

Total effective imprisonment length Number of people
1 to less than 2 years 2
2 to less than 3 years 6
3 to less than 4 years 9
4 to less than 5 years 11
5 to less than 6 years 20
6 to less than 7 years 20
7 to less than 8 years 15
8 to less than 9 years 7
9 to less than 10 years 5
10 to less than 11 years 4
11 to less than 12 years 2
12 to less than 13 years 1
13 to less than 14 years 0
14 to less than 15 years 3
15 to less than 16 years 1
Total 106

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 of the 106 people sentenced to imprisonment for causing serious injury intentionally were eligible to have a non-parole period fixed. Of these people, 103 were given a non-parole period (97.2%).[15]

Figure 7 shows the number of people sentenced to imprisonment for causing serious injury intentionally, by length of non-parole period. Non-parole periods ranged from 9 months to 11 years, while the median non-parole period was 3 years and 8 months (meaning that half of the non-parole periods were below 3 years and 8 months and half were above).

The most common range of non-parole periods was 3 to less than 4 years (28 people).

Note that it was not possible to determine the length of the non-parole period for one person.[16]

Figure 7: The number of people sentenced to imprisonment for causing serious injury intentionally by length of non-parole period, 2016-17 to 2020-21

Non-parole period Number of people
Less than 1 year 1
1 to less than 2 years 8
2 to less than 3 years 17
3 to less than 4 years 28
4 to less than 5 years 20
5 to less than 6 years 11
6 to less than 7 years 5
7 to less than 8 years 7
8 to less than 9 years 1
9 to less than 10 years 0
10 to less than 11 years 1
11 to less than 12 years 3
Undetermined 1
No non-parole period 3
Total 106

Total effective sentences of imprisonment and non-parole periods

Figure 8 represents the 102 people who were sentenced to imprisonment for causing serious injury intentionally and for whom the non-parole period could be determined. It shows the average total effective sentence and average non-parole period for these people by financial year.

From 2016-17 to 2020-21, the average total effective sentence ranged from 5 years and 10 months in 2016-17 to 7 years and 3 months in 2020-21. Over the same period, the average non-parole period ranged from 3 years and 7 months in 2016-17 to 4 years and 8 months in 2020-21.

Figure 8: The average total effective sentence and the average non-parole period for people sentenced to imprisonment with a non-parole period for causing serious injury intentionally by financial year

Financial year Average total effective sentence length Average non-parole period
2016-17 5 years and 10 months 3 years and 7 months
2017-18 6 years and 9 months 4 years and 4 months
2018-19 6 years and 5 months 4 years and 1 month
2019-20 5 years and 11 months 3 years and 10 months
2020-21 7 years and 3 months 4 years and 8 months

Further data on total effective sentences of imprisonment and corresponding non-parole periods for causing serious injury intentionally is available on SACStat.

Summary

From 2016-17 to 2020-21, 124 people were sentenced for causing serious injury intentionally in the higher courts. Of these people, 106 (85.5%) were given a principal sentence of imprisonment.

The number and range of offences for which people with a principal offence of causing serious injury intentionally were sentenced help explain why imprisonment sentence lengths were longer for the total effective sentence than for the principal sentence. Total effective sentences ranged from 1 year to 15 years and 8 months, and non-parole periods ranged from 9 months to 11 years. The median total effective sentence was 6 years, while the median principal imprisonment length was 5 years and 6 months.

On average, people sentenced for causing serious injury intentionally were found guilty of 3.3 offences each, with a maximum of 25 offences.

Endnotes

1. This Sentencing Snapshot is an update of Sentencing Snapshot no. 238, which describes sentencing trends for causing serious injury intentionally between 2014-15 and 2018-19.

2. Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) s 16.

3. 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 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 Snapshot is accurate, the data is subject to revision.

4. The value of a penalty unit changes each year and can be found in the Victorian Government Gazette and on the Victorian legislation website.

5. Sentencing Act 1991 (Vic) ss 3(ca) (definition of Category 1 offence), 5(2G). If the court finds that a special reason exists under section 10A, the court may alternatively impose a mandatory treatment and monitoring order: Sentencing Act 1991 (Vic) s 5(2GA).

6. Sentencing Act 1991 (Vic) ss 3(c) (definition of Category 2 offence), ss 5(2H)-(2I).

7. 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.

8. Custodial sentences are mostly imprisonment but can also include partially suspended sentences, youth justice centre orders, hospital security orders, residential treatment orders, custodial supervision orders, and combined custody and treatment orders.

9. Principal sentence types can include 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 outcomes and in the count of people sentenced. These are not sentencing orders as they are imposed in cases in which the accused is found unfit to stand trial or not guilty because of mental impairment. However, they are included in this Snapshot as they are an important form of disposition of criminal charges.

10. For example, if the principal offence receives a combined order of imprisonment and a community correction order pursuant to section 44 of the Sentencing Act 1991 (Vic), imprisonment is recorded as the most serious sentence type.

11. 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.

12. 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.

13. A court may impose an aggregate sentence of imprisonment on multiple charges sentenced at the same time. These sentences are a single term of imprisonment in which the parts of the term attributable to the individual charges are not specified. A case may include a combination of aggregate and non-aggregate sentences.

14. DPP v LH [2020] VCC 282 (13 years and 9 months). The second longest imprisonment sentence was imposed in DPP v Tomisic [2018] VCC 1335 (12 years).

15. Three people were eligible to have a non-parole period fixed but did not receive one. This included 2 people who had a sentence length between 1 year and less than 2 years, and 1 person who had a sentence of 2 years or more.

16. One person was given a non-parole period that related to more than one case (for example, they may have already been serving a prison sentence at the time). It was not possible to separately determine the non-parole periods that related to each individual case.