Sentencing for motor vehicle manslaughter
Two recent cases involve appeals against:
- the inadequacy of a sentence for manslaughter involving a vehicle, which was allowed, and
- the severity of a sentence for motor vehicle manslaughter, which was rejected.
The cases indicate that relatively serious sentences can be imposed for manslaughter involving motor vehicles.
NSW Court of Criminal Appeal, 11 June 2021
The offender pleaded guilty to manslaughter of a 12 year old boy. The offender was speeding and affected by drugs when his vehicle struck and killed the boy, was subject to an Intensive Corrections Order for driving under the influence, and was disqualified from driving.
The offender was sentenced to an aggregate sentence of 6 years and 10 months' imprisonment, with a non-parole period of 4 years and 6 months. The prosecution appealed against the sentence.
One ground of the appeal was that the sentencing judge failed to take into account general deterrence, specific deterrence and the need to protect the community from the offence. The Court of Criminal Appeal (CCA) upheld this ground in part. The CCA found that the offender's criminal history, the fact that he was already on conditional liberty for driving while intoxicated, and his unresolved history of substance abuse, meant that the sentencing judge should have expressly addressed specific deterrence and community protection.
The Court accepted that it was a very serious example of vehicular manslaughter and the offender's moral culpability was very high. There was also no real evidence that the offender had some prospect of not reoffending.
The CCA resentenced the offender to 10 years and 2 months' imprisonment, with a non-parole period of 6 years and 8 months.
NSW Court of Criminal Appeal, 11 August 2021
Both offenders pleaded guilty to a single charge of manslaughter arising from a collision caused during a street race. Each offender was sentenced to an identical sentence: a head sentence of 10 years and 6 months' imprisonment, with a non-parole period of 7 years.
Each offender appealed against their sentence, on the ground that it was manifestly excessive. The CCA held that the sentence, while heavy, was not unreasonable or plainly unjust. It was within range and available to the sentencing judge.
In dismissing the appeals, the CCA considered the offence to be a most serious example its kind, and involved a set of circumstances that call for significant general deterrence, as:
- two vehicles were involved, meaning there was a real risk that the offenders would collide with each other
- at one stage, one of the vehicles was driving on the wrong side of the road
- the offence took place in a built-up area in the middle of a regional city, where there was likely to be other road users and pedestrians, and there were passengers in one of the cars
- at one stage, one vehicle was travelling at 143 km/h, and the other vehicle was travelling at no less than 100 km/h, when the speed limit in the area was 50 km/h, and
- although the conduct was opportunistic, each of the offenders engaged, quite deliberately, in a reckless disregard for the safety of others.