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Crime and Justice: Higher Criminal Court Outcomes
Adjudicated defendants in the Higher Criminal Courts (a) - 2002-03
OFFENDERS AND THEIR CRIMES
Adjudicated defendants in the Higher Criminal Courts in Australia were predominantly male. In 2002-03, males represented 87% of adjudicated defendants. With a median age of 30 years, female defendants had a slightly higher median age than males (28 years). Almost a quarter (24%) of defendants in the Higher Criminal Courts were aged 20–24 years.
Defendants may face several charges in the criminal courts simultaneously. When these charges are finalised, the principal offence of the defendant is selected from the list of charges by taking into account the seriousness of each of the offences and he outcome of the court proceedings, i.e. whether the defendant is proven guilty (via a plea or verdict) or is acquitted.
Five principal offence categories accounted for almost three-quarters (72%) of defendants in the Higher Criminal Courts during 2002-03. These were acts intended to cause injury (21%), unlawful entry with intent (15%), illicit drug offences (13%), offences related to robbery and extortion (12%), and offences related to sexual assault (11%). For male defendants, the most common principal offence categories were acts intended to cause injury (21%) and unlawful entry with intent (16%). For females, acts intended to cause injury (19%) and offences related to deception (19%) were the most common.
Different principal offences were observed for older persons compared to younger persons. The most common principal offence for male defendants aged 45 years and over was an offence related to sexual assault. This category of offence accounted for around one-third (32%) of male defendants in this age group, compared to 6% of those aged less than 20 years. For younger male defendants aged less than 20 years, over one-quarter (27%) appeared in the Higher Criminal Courts with a principal offence of unlawful entry with intent, compared to 3% of male defendants aged 45 years and over.
For women, almost a quarter (24%) of the defendants aged less than 20 years were finalised in the Higher Criminal Courts with a principal offence of acts intended to cause injury. The most common principal offence of women aged 45 years and over was an offence related to deception (37%).
Age(a) and sex of adjudicated defendants(b) - 2002-03
Selected principal offence of adjudicated defendants(a) - 2002-03
GOING TO TRIAL
In 2002-03, 83% of adjudicated defendants had entered a guilty plea while around 17% were subject to a trial outcome (guilty verdict or acquittal). A greater proportion of female defendants had entered a guilty plea than male defendants (88% and 83% respectively).
The proportion of adjudicated defendants who had entered a guilty plea varied by the type of principal offence. Of defendants with a principal offence related to homicide or sexual assault, a smaller than average proportion had entered a guilty plea (51% and 60% respectively). In comparison, 95% of defendants with a principal offence of unlawful entry with intent had entered a guilty plea, with the remaining 5% having a trial outcome.
Defendants with a principal offence related to sexual assault accounted for more than a quarter of all defendants finalised by trial in 2002-03. As defendants with these offences were overwhelmingly male, this contributed to a greater proportion of male defendants with a trial outcome (17%) than female defendants (12%).
In 2002-03, of defendants with a principal offence of acts intended to cause injury, 17% of men and 13% of women had a trial outcome. Similar proportions of men and women with a principal offence related to deception had a trial outcome (11% and 9% respectively).
PROVEN GUILTY OR ACQUITTED
Adjudicated defendants in the Higher Criminal Courts can be either acquitted of the charge against them, or proven guilty through a guilty verdict at trial or by entering a guilty plea. In 2002-03, 93% of defendants whose cases were heard in the Higher Criminal Courts were proven guilty, with 83% entering a guilty plea and 10% being proven guilty at trial.
With just 17% of defendants having their court outcome decided by trial in 2002-03, acquittals subsequently comprised a small proportion of all defendants who appeared in the Higher Criminal Courts (7%). For those defendants who did have a trial outcome, 41% received an acquittal. Men were more likely than women to successfully contest charges at trial - 42% of male defendants who went to trial were acquitted compared with 35% of female defendants.
Patterns around whether defendants choose to go to trial and the likelihood of being acquitted at trial varied by principal offence. In 2002-03, two out of every five (40%) defendants with a principal offence related to sexual assault had a trial outcome and of these about half (51%) were acquitted. As men accounted for almost all (98%) defendants with a principal offence related to sexual assault, this contributed to a greater proportion of male defendants being acquitted at trial than female defendants. The relatively high acquittal rate for sexual assault and related offences is in part due to the nature of the offences (endnote 3). It can often be difficult to prove that the offence occurred, and even with evidence of this, whether it was consensual (endnote 4).
In 2002-03, 97% of defendants with a principal offence of illicit drug offences were proven guilty, with 87% entering a guilty plea and 10% being given a guilty verdict at trial. Defendants with this principal offence were more likely to receive a guilty verdict at trial than defendants with most other principal offences at trial. Of defendants who were finalised with a principal offence of illicit drug offences, and who had a trial outcome, 83% of women and 79% of men received a guilty verdict.
Proportion of convicted defendants(a) sentenced to custody in a correctional institution or the community - 2002-03
In determining the appropriate sentence for a convicted offender, the courts take into account aggravating and mitigating factors which may have influenced the offenders’ behaviour or the outcome of the incident (endnote 5). For example where violence is used, or the offender has a prior conviction, a heavier sentence may be imposed. On the other hand, the sentence may be more lenient, where an offender is provoked, is unlikely to re-offend, shows remorse or pleads guilty.
Sentences can be either custodial or non-custodial. Custodial orders require a person to have their liberty restricted for a specified period of time through either detainment or regular supervision, for example custody in a correctional institution or home detention. Suspended sentences may also be given, where at least part of the sentence does not have to be served, subject to the person being of good behaviour for a specified period. In 2002-03, over half (53%) of convicted offenders in the Higher Criminal Courts were sentenced to custody in a corrections facility, 3% to custody in the community, and a further 18% of convicted offenders were given fully suspended sentences. During the same year, the remaining quarter (26%) of convicted offenders received a non-custodial sentence such as a fine or community service order.
Different sentencing outcomes were also evident for young men and women. In 2002-03, convicted men and women aged less than 20 years were more likely to receive community supervision or work orders (41%) than offenders in older age-groups. Further, a smaller proportion of these young offenders were sentenced to imprisonment in a correctional institution than any other age group.
In 2002-03, a higher proportion of convicted men than convicted women were ordered into custody in a correctional facility or the community (58% and 38% respectively). A principal offence related to deception accounted for a greater proportion of convicted women than convicted men (20% compared with 6%), and this crime was less likely to result in a custodial sentence than crimes such as sexual assault and robbery. However, even when convicted of the same offence type, a greater proportion of men than women were sentenced to custody in a correctional institution or the community.
For example, 56% of men convicted of acts intended to cause injury were sentenced to custody in a correctional institution or the community compared with 30% of women. This difference could be associated with a range of aggravating and mitigating factors. For more information on women in custody, see Australian Social Trends 2004, Women in Prison.
1 Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision, Productivity Commission, Report on Government Services, 2004: Volume 1 , <http://www.pc.gov.au/gsp/ reports/rogs/2004/2004v1.zip> accessed 12 August 2004.
2 Australian Bureau of Statistics 2004, Yearbook Australia 2005, cat. no. 1301.0, ABS, Canberra.
3 Australian Bureau of Statistics 2004, Sexual assault in Australia: a statistical overview, cat. no. 4523.0, ABS, Canberra.
4 Cook, B, David, F, and Grant, A.2001, Sexual violence in Australia, Australian Institute of Criminology, Research and Public Policy Series No. 36, AIC, Canberra.
5 New South Wales Consolidated Acts, Crimes (Sentencing procedure) Act 1999 Section 21A , <http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/nsw/ consol_act/cpa1999278/s21a.html> accessed 23 September 2004.