Sentencing for Multiple Offences: Concurrent and Cumulative Sentences

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A 29-year old man is facing a string of charges after a tragic road accident which killed four children and hospitalised three more over the weekend.

The children were riding their bikes on the footpath in Oatlands near Parramatta on Saturday evening when they were struck by the 4WD ute. Police arrested the driver of the vehicle after he returned a positive roadside breath test. He and his passenger were not hurt in the crash.

The driver, Samuel Davidson, allegedly returned a reading of 0.150, three times the legal limit at Castle Hill Police Station. He has subsequently been charged with more than 20 offences, including four counts of manslaughter, four counts of dangerous driving occasioning death from driving under influence, four counts of dangerous driving occasioning death, driving with a high-range blood alcohol reading and driving through a red light.

At Parramatta Bail Court, he did not appear via video link and there was no application for bail. The case has been adjourned until 2 April 2020.

Police claim there are numerous witnesses to the incident and that their case is strong.

The charges

Mr Davidson has been charged with the following criminal offences and driving offences.

Manslaughter: This offence covers situations where a person causes the death of another but did not intend to kill or seriously harm them. The maximum penalty for the offence is 25 years in prison.

Dangerous driving occasioning death which is contained in section 52A of the Crimes Act 1900 and attracts a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. The offence applies where a vehicle driven by a person is involved in an impact occasioning the death of another person and the driver was, at the time of the impact, driving the vehicle:

(a) under the influence of intoxicating liquor or of a drug, or
(b) at a speed dangerous to another person or persons, or
(c) in a manner dangerous to another person or persons.

High range drink driving and driving through a red light: High range drink driving is where a person drives a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration of at least 0.150. If the charge is a person’s first major traffic offence within the past 5 years, the maximum penalties are:

  1. Up to 18 months in prison
  2. 9 month driver licence disqualification which can be reduced to 6 months, followed by
  3. 24 months during which you the driver must have an interlock device installed to your vehicle, and
  4. Fine of $3,300

Alternatively, the court can ‘exempt’ the driver from the interlock requirement and impose maximum penalties of:

  1. Up to 18 months in prison
  2. 3 year licence disqualification which can be reduced to 12 months, and
  3. Fine of $3,300.

What happens when a person is guilty of multiple offences?

When a person is guilty of multiple charges at the same court hearing, the court has numerous sentencing options.

The principal sentence is the most severe sentence imposed for an offence in the case. The court will then order other individual sentences imposed for remaining charges to be served concurrently, cumulatively, or partially concurrently with the head sentence.

When the principal sentence is added to the cumulative portion of any other sentence, the court will decide the total sentence to be served by the offender, and will include a minimum non-parole period.

Concurrent Sentences

Concurrent sentences are served at the same time. For example, if a person is sentenced to three years imprisonment for the most serious charge and six months for another charge to be served concurrently, a total of three years will be served.

Cumulative Sentences

Cumulative sentences are served one after the other. For example, if a person is sentenced to three years imprisonment for the most serious charge and six months’ imprisonment for a second charge to be served entirely cumulatively, a total of three and a half years will be served.

Courts can order partial cumulation too, with part of one sentence being served at the same time as the principle sentence, and another part to be served after the principal term has ended – so the sentences partly overlap.

Legislation governing sentencing in New South Wales

When sentencing a person for more than one offence, the court has a responsibility to ensure that the ‘time fits the crime’, meaning that sentences must be just and appropriate and considered to be in line with community expectations. This is called the principle of totality.

When multiple offences arise from one incident, courts are more likely to have a greater portion of the sentences run concurrently.

But if there are separate incidents, courts are more likely to order that a large proportion runs cumulutavely.

The main piece of legislation which sets out the rules relating to sentencing in New South Wales is the Crimes (Sentencing and Procedure) Act 1999.

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About Sonia Hickey

Sonia Hickey is a freelance writer and magazine journalist with an interest in social justice, and a member of the Sydney Criminal Lawyers® content team.

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