4513.0 - Criminal Courts, Australia, 2011-12 Quality Declaration 
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 27/06/2013   
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Contents >> Sentence length >> Introduction


This chapter presents statistics about selected sentences handed down in the criminal jurisdiction of the Higher (Supreme and Intermediate), Magistrates' and Children's Courts of Australia, for the period 1 July 2011 to 30 June 2012, for all states and territories, except the Tasmanian Higher Criminal Courts which are not available for inclusion.

A defendant is sentenced after pleading guilty to an offence or after being found guilty of an offence by the court. Each state and territory has legislation to guide the courts in imposing an appropriate sentence, therefore sentence types and sentence ranges can vary. In imposing a sentence on a person proven guilty of an offence, the judge or magistrate will consider: the purpose to be achieved by the sentence (such as punishment, rehabilitation and protecting the community); any mitigating factors (these can reduce the potential sentence); and any aggravating factors (these can increase the potential sentence).

The sentencing laws create boundaries but still allow the judicial officer to exercise discretion as to whether the maximum penalty for an offence is imposed.

Further, a defendant can receive:

  • a single sentence for a single offence proven guilty;
  • a single sentence for multiple offences proven guilty;
  • multiple sentences for multiple offences proven guilty; and/or
  • multiple sentences assigned to a single offence proven guilty.

Data presented refer to the principal sentence, which is the most serious sentence type imposed on a defendant, and the length or amount of this principal sentence. To provide a direct relationship between offences and sentences, the principal proven offence is then derived by taking the offence directly associated with this principal sentence. Where a principal sentence covers more than one offence, the most serious offence is selected. For more detail refer to the Technical Note.

In this release, data on sentence length and sentence amount for selected non-custodial sentences are being presented for the first time. Data for the contributing states and territories have been aggregated to provide a total in the tables presented, unless otherwise specified. All Courts data refers to the grouping of the Higher Courts, Magistrates' Courts and Children's Courts.

2011-12 Snapshot

  • For defendants in All Courts who had a principal sentence of custody in a correctional institution, the median sentence length was 6 months.
  • In the Higher Courts, over one-third (36%) of defendants with a principal sentence of custody in a correctional institution received a sentence length of 3 years or more.
  • The offences associated with the longest median sentence length in a correctional institution were homicide (76 months), sexual assault (24 months), robbery and extortion (24 months), and illicit drug offences (15 months).
  • Almost one quarter (24%) of defendants aged under 20 years and sentenced to custody in a correctional institution received a sentence length of less than 3 months.
  • Probation orders and good behaviour bonds handed out in the Magistrates' and Children's Courts both had a median sentence length of 12 months.
  • The median value of fines imposed in the Magistrates' and Children's Courts was $400.00.

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