Concurrent and Cumulative Sentences (Vic)
It is common for courts to sentence offenders for multiple offences at the same time. This can occur when multiple charges arise from the same incident or when multiple charges arise from separate incidents but are dealt with together. In these situations, the court may impose more than one term of imprisonment or detention. These sentences may be made concurrent or cumulative depending on the circumstances. This page deals with concurrent and cumulative sentences in Victoria.
Concurrent sentences are sentences of imprisonment or detention that are served at the same time. For example, if someone is sentenced to six months imprisonment for Offence 1 and 12 months for Offence 2 and the terms are concurrent, the total effective sentence (that is, the time that they will actually serve) is 12 months imprisonment.
Cumulative sentences are sentences of imprisonment or detention that are served one after the other. For example, if someone is sentenced to six months imprisonment for Offence 1 and 12 months for Offence 2 and the terms are cumulative, the total effective sentence is 18 months imprisonment.
Partly cumulative sentences
When a court imposes partially cumulative sentences, part of the second sentence will be served at the same time as the first. The remainder will be served after the completion of the first sentence. For example, if someone is sentenced to 12 months imprisonment for Offence 1 and six months for Offence 2, with two months to be served cumulatively, the total effective sentence is 14 months.
The totality principle
When a court sentences an offender for multiple charges, the aggregate sentence must be ‘just and appropriate’ to the totality of the offending behaviour. The overall sentence must be neither too harsh or too lenient.
In 1979, DA Thomas expressed the common law principle of totality as follows:
The effect of the totality principle is to require a sentencer who has passed a series of sentences, each properly calculated in relation to the offence for which it is imposed and each properly made consecutive in accordance with the principles governing consecutive sentences, to review the aggregate sentence and consider whether the aggregate is ‘just and appropriate’. The principle has been stated many times in various forms: ‘when a number of offences are being dealt with and specific punishments in respect of them are being totted up to make a total, it is always necessary for the court to take a last look at the total just to see whether it looks wrong[’]; ‘when … cases of multiplicity of offences come before the court, the court must not content itself by doing the arithmetic and passing the sentence which the arithmetic produces. It must look at the totality of the criminal behaviour and ask itself what is the appropriate sentence for all the offences.
When is a sentence of imprisonment to be served concurrently?
Under section 16 of the Sentencing Act 1991, subject to a number of exceptions all sentences of imprisonment imposed by Victorian courts are to be served concurrently unless the court directs otherwise. This does not apply in cases where imprisonment is imposed:
- In default of payment of a fine;
- On a prisoner for a prison offence or escape offence;
- On a serious offender for a relevant offence;
- For an offence committed while on parole;
- For an offence committed while on bail;
- For certain specified offences such as offences against emergency workers and assaults on police involving the use of an offensive weapons.
A serious offender is a serious arson offender, a serious drug offender, a serious sexual offender or a serious violent offender.
A relevant offence means an indictable offence committed while the offender was a public sector employee such as a police officer, a judicial employee or a parliamentary officer.
Detention of young offenders
Under section 33(1) of the Sentencing Act 1991, subject to some exceptions, a term of detention imposed on a young offender (a person under 21) must be served concurrently with any uncompleted sentence of detention or imprisonment. This does not apply in cases where detention is imposed:
- For escaping from a remand centre, youth residential centre or youth justice centre;
- For an offence involving property damage to a remand centre, youth residential centre or youth justice centre
In the above two situations, any term of detention must be served cumulatively on any other sentence of detention that is uncompleted.
When a term on detention is imposed on a young offender for default in payment of a fine, it must be served cumulatively with any other term imposed for non-payment of a fine but concurrently with any uncompleted sentence.
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