Mandatory Sentencing (Qld)
When courts are sentencing people for criminal offences, they generally have a wide discretion as to the penalty they impose. This is decided with reference to the objective seriousness of the offence and the surrounding circumstances. However, some offences carry mandatory sentences. These are sentences that courts must impose regardless of the circumstances of the individual case. This page deals with mandatory sentencing in Queensland.
Rationale of mandatory sentencing
Mandatory sentencing provisions exist in many states and territories. They are designed to ensure that serious offending is dealt with adequately and that sentences meet community expectations about courts being ‘tough on crime’.
However, mandatory sentencing is often criticised for being inflexible and interfering in the exercise of judicial discretion. Many people feel that mandatory sentencing is arbitrary and leads to unfair sentencing outcomes as it prevents courts from taking into account mitigating factors.
Mandatory life imprisonment
There are some offences that carry a mandatory sentence of imprisonment for life in Queensland.
Under section 305 of the Criminal Code 1899, a person who is found guilty of murder must be sentenced to imprisonment for life.
If the person has been found guilty of more than one count of murder, there is a minimum non-parole period of 30 years.
If the victim of the murder was a police officer, there is a minimum non-parole period of 25 years.
Repeat serious child sex offences
Under section 161E of the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992, when an adult is found guilty of a serious child sex offence when they have previously been found guilty of a serious child sex offence while an adult, they are liable to imprisonment for life.
Serious violence offences
Under Part 9A of the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992, if a person is convicted of a Schedule 1 offence and sentenced to more than 10 years imprisonment, the court must declare them to have been convicted of a serious violence offence.
The court may declare a person to have been convicted of a serious violence offence if they are convicted of a Schedule 1 offence and sentenced to between five and ten years imprisonment.
Schedule 1 offences include rape, child sex offences, burglary, serious assaults and attempted murder.
A person who has been convicted of a serious violence offence must serve 80% of their sentence (or 15 years, whichever is less) before becoming eligible for parole. This means that the court does not have discretion to decide how long the person must spend in jail before being able to apply for parole. As a result, a person sentenced under these laws is likely to spend much more time in prison before becoming eligible for parole than they would if these laws did not exist.
Mandatory community service
In Queensland, when certain offences are committed when the offender is intoxicated, the court must impose community service as part of the penalty. Offences that carry mandatory community service when alcohol or drugs is a factor include assault, wounding and grievous bodily harm.
The mandatory community service provisions were introduced in 2014 as part of the Safe Night Out Legislation Amendment Bill. This amendment aimed at stamping out alcohol- and drug-related violence.
Mandatory driver’s licence disqualification
Some driving offences carry a mandatory period of licence disqualification. The minimum period of disqualification depends on the offence and the offender’s driving record.
Offences that carry mandatory licence disqualification include drink driving offences, drug driving offence and dangerous driving.
Court can order longer than the mandatory sentence
Mandatory sentencing laws prescribe the minimum sentence that courts must impose. When a mandatory sentencing provision applies, the court can impose a longer sentence, but not a shorter one.
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