It is an important sentencing principle that parity exist in sentences imposed for like offences. In a diverse state such a Queensland, with three levels of Courts; Magistrates, District and Supreme, there needs to be an overriding set of guidelines to ensure that sentences imposed upon offenders are consistent. The Penalties and Sentences Act sets out the parameters within which the courts must operate.
The legislation does this by setting out the purpose of imposing sentences and then establishes the principles that the Court is to apply in achieving those purposes.
The purpose of imposing a sentence can be classified as one or more of the following:
- To punish the offender to an extent or in a way that is just in all the circumstances;
- To provide conditions will help the offender to be rehabilitated;
- Deterrence, both personal and general;
- Denunciation of the offending conduct;
- Protection of the Queensland community from the offender;
In most non-violent offences the starting point in sentencing is that a sentence of imprisonment should only be imposed as a last resort and that a sentence that allows the offender to stay in the community is preferable.
The Court must also have regard to the maximum and any minimum penalty prescribed for the offence and how serious the offence was, including any physical, mental or emotional harm done to a victim. Particular regard is to be had to the effect of the offence on any child under 16 years who may have been directly exposed to, or a witness to, the offence. The court should also have regard to the prevalence of the offence.
Consideration is also had to the extent to which the offender is to blame for the offence and the presence of any aggravating or mitigating factors such as any damage, injury or loss caused by the offender.
Matters particular to the accused are also relevant such as the offender’s:
- intellectual capacity;
- assistance given to law enforcement agencies in the investigation of the offence or other offences.
- time spent in custody awaiting sentence;
- sentences imposed on, and served by, the offender in another State or a Territory for an offence committed at, or about the same time, as the offence with which the court is dealing;
- compliance with previous community based orders
- attendance at a rehabilitation, treatment or other intervention program or course while on bail.
Each of these principles is to be taken into account in determining the appropriate sentence. What often becomes difficult for the sentencing court is to balancing the various competing interests. An experienced criminal lawyer is able to highlight the positive features, and mitigate the sentence imposed.