Sentencing is when the judge decides the offender’s punishment. You don’t have to attend court for the sentencing hearing unless you want to.
The sentencing hearing is when your victim impact statement is presented to the court.
How does the judge decide what sentence to give?
The judge is required by law to take many factors into account when sentencing the offender, such as:
- how serious the offence was
- the impact on you and other people affected by the crime
- the offender’s personal circumstances
- what sentences have been given for other similar crimes
- reports about the offender (such as a pre-sentence report, reparation report and victim impact statements).
Sentencing discounts for early guilty pleas
Sometimes if the accused pleads guilty, they can receive a discount on their sentence - this is outlined in the Sentencing Act 2017.
The scheme encourages the defendant to plead guilty - the earlier they plead guilty, the greater the reduction in their sentence.
This was changed in 2020 to reduce the maximum discounts available in the higher courts.
- In the Magistrates Court a defendant may receive a reduction of up to 40%
- In the higher courts a defendant may receive a reduction of up to 35%
- For serious indictable offences (such as manslaughter, causing death by dangerous driving and rape) a defendant may receive a reduction of up to 25%.
Some victims can benefit from an early guilty plea as it means they do not have to go through the trial process - which can be traumatic. Other victims want a chance to give their evidence.
What does the court think about when reducing a sentence?
The courts must consider a number of things when deciding how much a sentence should be reduced. These include:
- at what stage the defendant pleaded guilty
- whether the defendant intentionally hid their crime, and for how long
- whether the case against the defendant was overwhelming but still disputed by the defendant
- if the defendant was initially charged with a different offence
- whether the defendant could not have pleaded guilty at an earlier stage because of things beyond their control
- whether the defendant has demonstrated genuine remorse.
Can I have a say in the sentencing process?
Some victims and their families find it frustrating that the sentencing process is focused on the offender, their life and circumstances, rather than focusing on the victim and the impact the crime had on them.
Your victim impact statement is the way for you to be heard in the process and to tell the court how the crime has affected you.
The judge is required to consider your victim impact statement when sentencing the offender.