Sentencing Council

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​2019 HSC Legal Studies exam

Below is a breakdown of how well past Legal Studies students answered questions that related to sentencing and punishment. Answers with an asterisk are the correct answers.


Question 4

Pat does not have a criminal record. He pleads guilty to a charge in the Local Court. Which of the following is true?

A. Pat is very likely to go to prison.
B. Pat’s case will be heard by a jury.
C. A judge will determine an appropriate penalty.
D. A magistrate will determine an appropriate penalty. *

This question addresses the topic of “Criminal Trial Process” and the plea will have an influence upon the sentence that is dispensed. 79.25% of candidates answered it correctly, with the main distractor being (C).

Question 5

In 2006, the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Gangs) Act (NSW) came into force. This increased both police search powers and maximum sentences for gang-related offences.

The passing of this act is an example of
A. law reform.  *
B. police discretion.
C. judicial discretion.
D. separation of powers.

This question addresses the Theme and Challenge of “the role of law reform in the criminal justice system” but includes reference to the sections on “police powers” and “types of penalties”. The majority of candidates had no difficulty with this question as 83.46% of candidates answered it correctly, with the main distractor being (B). This was the third most successfully answered question in 2019.

Question 6 

The prosecution and defence agree an offender will plead guilty to manslaughter instead of being tried for murder.

What is this agreement an example of?

A. A partial defence
B. Charge negotiation  *
C. A complete defence
D. Alternative sentencing

“Charge negotiation” forms part of the Criminal Trial Process within the syllabus, but the outcome of this process will have a direct impact upon the Sentencing and Punishment process. This is even more evident since the introduction of the Sentencing Reforms of 2018 and the effect of Early Guilt Pleas upon the sentence given. 

The majority of candidates had no difficulty with this question as 83.67% of candidates answered it correctly, with the main distractors being split between (A) and (D). This was the second most successfully answered question in 2019.

Question 14

How does the NSW Circle Sentencing process seek to improve the sentencing of offenders?

A. By only applying to first time offenders
B. By reducing available sentencing options
C. By involving the community in sentencing  *
D. By requiring the victim to be involved in the sentencing process

“Circle Sentencing” is included in the “alternative methods of sentencing including circle sentencing, restorative justice” section of the Sentencing and Punishment process. 

This question caused problems with many candidates as only 57.28% answered it correctly, with the main distractor being (D). Circle Sentencing has been asked on a number of occasions since 2011 and usually caused candidates difficulty therefore revision of this area by future candidates would be advisable.

Question 15

Jordyn is a homeless youth and is being sentenced for armed robbery. This is his second offence.

Which of the following is a mitigating circumstance?

A. Jordyn’s age *
B. Jordyn’s homelessness
C. Jordyn’s prior conviction
D. Jordyn’s use of a weapon

This question addresses the topic of “factors affecting a sentencing decision: aggravating and mitigating circumstances” within the Sentencing and Punishment process. 

This question caused problems with some candidates as only 64.55% answered it correctly, with the main distractors being (B) and (C). This question highlights the need for candidates to have a clear understanding of the differences between aggravating and mitigating circumstances.

Question 17 

Which of the following is correct about victim impact statements?

A. Affected family members must make a statement.
B. The person writing the statement must present it in court.
C. The statement becomes part of the evidence considered by the jury.
D. The person writing the statement can be questioned about its contents. *

This question addresses the topic of “the role of the victim in sentencing” within the Sentencing and Punishment process. 
This was the least successfully answered question in 2019 and continues the poor understanding of candidates on the role of victim impact statements. Only 27.17% of candidates answering it correctly. 44.46% of candidates chose (C) which means they don’t actually know where VISs fit within the criminal justice process. Another large group of candidates chose (B) reinforcing this point.

Victim impact statements have now been asked in 2014, 2018 and 2019 and candidates have answered it poorly on all occasions. Therefore revision of this area by future candidates would be advisable.

Question 24.

Explain how post-sentencing considerations seek to balance community interests and individual rights and freedoms.
This is an extended response question.

This question addressed the topic of “post-sentencing considerations, including security classification, protective custody, parole, preventative detention, continued detention, sexual offenders registration, deportation” within the Sentencing and Punishment process but had to be answered in response to the Principal Focus of “balancing community interests and individual rights and freedoms”.

Explain type questions require candidates to “relate cause and effect; make the relationships between things evident; provide why and/or how”.

This question had a mean of 6.40/15.00, which would indicate candidates had difficulty explaining the relationship between these two sections of the syllabus.