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SENTENCING : The Principles

Contrary to popular belief, upon a finding of guilt, passing of a sentence on a defendant is not a arbitrary exercise. In various jurisdictions in Common Law countries, a decision maker is guided by what is called as Sentencing Principles, to deliver an appropriate sentence. These sentencing principles are provided for in the Penalties and Sentences Act in Queensland. Similarly, the Canadian Criminal Code lays out these principles in s718.

Sentencing Principles in Queensland

A Judge must take a number things into account before passing a sentence.

Legislation in both these jurisdictions have strict requirements of the purposes of imposing a sentence, and includes the need to denounce the offender’s behavior. Another very important principle is that of deterrence. Deterrence can be of two kinds, general and specific. While specific deterrence addresses means to deter the particular offender for his act, general deterrence is aimed at sending a message to members of the general public that behavior of such sort is not accepted.

The Court may also impose a sentence to address the sentencing purpose of rehabilitation, and this is reflected in the fact that a sentence of imprisonment is usually the absolute last resort available to a decision maker. The Court must be satisfied that looked at in totality, a custodial sentence is the only appropriate disposition available and no other means would be in the interests of justice.

A sentencing hearing is presided over by a decision maker, usually a Magistrate or a Judge who “hears” all relevant evidence to make a determination as to an appropriate punishment. It must be noted that the evidence presented at the sentencing stage is not the same as that is presented at the trial stage. That part of the proceedings is done and over, and at the sentencing stage, the Court focuses on the various factors that come into play surrounding the offender’s act. These factors are divided into aggravating and mitigating factors.

During sentencing submissions, A Prosecutor emphasizes the aggravating features of the offending before the Court on that occasion. These are diverse, and can range from the fact that the victim was caused harm due to the offender’s actions, to even that the offending occurred at night time or in company. These can somewhat add to the “degree” of the actions and thus are an argument in support of the seriousness of the offending.

Prosecutor Adrian J. Carter has appeared at numerous publicized sentencing hearings at the Townsville Magistrates Court.

As a Prosecutor, Adrian Carter has appeared in numerous publicized sentencing hearings at the Townsville Magistrates Court.

The Offender, usually by the means of a Defence Lawyer appearing for their behalf, submits various mitigating features of the offending and of the offender’s personal circumstances that may assist the Court. These are also varied and can include things such as being a passive bystander in the offending behavior, and a volatile upbringing. These, naturally, go towards mitigating the sentence and provide an argument to why the decision maker should pass a lower sentence than they are contemplating.

Sentencing is quite a complicated matter and requires a significant amount of time and preparation. This is the last, and sometimes the most important step in proceedings against a defendant in Court.


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