Sentencing is the process of deciding the appropriate penalty for a person who has committed an offence. In Queensland, it is the responsibility of the courts to interpret both statute law and case law to determine if an individual is found guilty in a case. Sentencing goes on to become case law and reflects the values of our society in what we consider right and wrong. Each state and territory of Australia has its own criminal laws and procedures, court systems, sentencing laws and prison systems. If you have been convicted of a crime, or are curious about how sentencing works, keep reading to discover how the criminal sentencing process works in Queensland.
The Precursor For Sentencing
A sentence can only be imposed when an individual has been found guilty of committing a crime. This verdict is determined either through a trial or if the person chooses to plead guilty to the offence. In Queensland, this hearing is usually held immediately after the guilty verdict has been reached.
When a person has been found guilty of an offence, the court holds a sentencing hearing. At this hearing, the State and the offender present pertinent information to inform the judge or magistrate, helping them apply an appropriate sentence. Sentencing hearings for adult offenders are typically held in open court, meaning that members of the general public and media can attend. There are some circumstances where the judge or magistrate must close the court. These include where a person has agreed to assist authorities if oral submissions are to be made, or evidence is about to be brought before the court in an effort to reduce the sentence.
Deciding What Sentence to Impose
Determining an appropriate sentence requires a judge or magistrate to carefully consider a wide range of factors in accordance with the law. They must take into account the submissions made by the prosecution and the defence, as well as legislation and case law as they apply to each individual case.
In each case, the judge or magistrate will consider all factors and decide on the purposes for the sentence. The only purposes under Queensland law for which an adult offender can be sentenced are:
- Community protection; or
- A combination of the above.
There are also factors and principles that apply in addition to the purpose in the sentencing of adults that the judge or magistrate must take into account. These include:
- Maximum and minimum penalty for the offence;
- The nature and seriousness of the offence;
- How much blame the offender holds;
- How early the offender pleaded guilty;
- Damage, loss or injury caused;
- The offender’s character and previous convictions;
- Aggravating or mitigating factors;
- How common the offence is;
- How cooperative the offender was to law enforcement authorities;
- Time spent in custody by the offender before the hearing;
- Sentences served by the offender in another state or territory;
- Other active sentences; or
- If the offender is an Aboriginal or a Torres Strait Islander person.
Whether the offender was voluntarily intoxicated by alcohol or drugs when committing the offence is not a factor taken into account to reduce the sentence. Some examples of mitigating factors that could reduce the severity of your sentence are immaturity, mental illness, evidence of remorse or childhood trauma. Factors that act as aggravators in the criminal sentencing process include premeditation, abusing a position of power or trust and offences committed while on bail.
Sentencing Factors for Child Offenders
The criminal sentencing process in Queensland for child offenders differs slightly from that of adults. According to the Criminal Code 1899 (Qld), a child under 10 can not be held criminally responsible for any act or omission. A child under 14 can only be held criminally responsible if the prosecution can prove beyond reasonable doubt that the child had an understanding that the offence was wrong at the time of doing it. The Youth Justice Act 1992 (Qld) is the guiding legislation for sentencing children 17 years or younger.
Factors that are unique to the criminal sentencing process of children include:
- The age of the child;
- The preference for a non-custodial order to help the child reintegrate into the community;
- The opportunity for the child’s family and engagement in educational programs and employment to aid in rehabilitation; and
- Detention orders are a last resort and applied with the shortest appropriate period.
Are You Prepared to Face the Criminal Sentencing Process?
If you’ve been convicted of a crime, it is imperative that you reach out to a criminal lawyer. At Guest Lawyers, we specialise in all areas of criminal law including traffic, criminal charges and broader legal services. We can help you with understanding the criminal sentencing process and preparing you for a trial. Get in touch with us to speak to a professional lawyer about how we might be able to assist you.