In some criminal court cases, the accused person may choose to plead guilty. This means they say they have done the crime they have been charged with.
If the accused person pleads not guilty, the trial will go ahead and evidence will be heard.
The court must decide if the person is guilty or not guilty. This is called the verdict. In some cases, the court may not be able to decide. This may mean that there will need to be another trial at a later time.
If the accused person is found guilty, the judge or magistrate will decide their sentence.
Even if the accused person is not found guilty, victims of violent crimes can get support and may be eligible for financial assistance.
The Victims of Crime Helpline can provide advice and information on 1800 819 817.
If the accused person is found guilty
If the accused person pleads guilty or is found guilty at court, they will now be called the offender.
The judge or magistrate must think about what penalty should be given, including whether they should serve time in prison. This is called sentencing the offender.
The purposes of sentencing
In Victoria, a sentence can only be imposed on an adult to achieve one or more of the following purposes:
- just punishment – to punish the offender in a way that is just in all the circumstances
- deterrence – to discourage the offender or other people (known as general deterrence) from committing the same or similar offences
- rehabilitation – to create conditions that help the offender to lead a law-abiding life
- denunciation – to denounce, condemn or censure the offender’s behaviour (that is, make it clear to the community that the behaviour is wrong)
- community protection – to protect the community from the offender.
For children, rehabilitation is generally the core purpose of sentencing. Purposes such as community protection and specific deterrence are reflected in the factors that are to be taken into account in sentencing children. General deterrence is not considered a legitimate purpose for the Children’s Court to consider when sentencing children.
When deciding a sentence, the judge or magistrate must consider a range of factors, including:
- how serious the offence was
- the maximum penalty for the offence
- penalties given in other similar cases
- if the offender has been found guilty of previous offences
- the impact on you and other people affected by the crime.
If you or other people affected by the crime make a Victim Impact Statement, the judge or magistrate will consider it before sentencing the offender.
The offender or their lawyer can also give information to the court, which may help the judge or magistrate sentence the offender.
Alternatives to prison
Not all offenders will go to prison, even when they are found guilty. The court may:
- adjourn (postpone) the case for a certain time if the offender agrees to sign an undertaking (promise) to do certain things, such as 'good behaviour'
- order the offender to pay a fine or court costs
- impose a suspended sentence which means the offender will only go to prison if they commit another offence
- impose a community-based order which means the offender must do things like undertake training, drug and alcohol treatment or unpaid community work. This is called diversion.
Diversion programs for offenders
For low level offences, particularly where the person has not committed a criminal offence before, the matter may be dealt with by the Criminal Justice Diversion program.
If the offender is eligible for the program:
- they may avoid a criminal record
- they may be given the opportunity to seek counselling or treatment that will reduce their risk of re-offending
- they may need to complete activities such as community service, writing an apology letter to the victim of the crime or making a donation to a charity organisation.
Anyone can apply for diversion throughout the court process, but:
- they must agree that they did the criminal offence
- the police must agree that the diversion program is appropriate based on the details of the case.
If you are a victim of the crime, before making their decision, the Magistrates’ Court will ask your opinion. They may ask you:
- whether you agree with the offender being placed on the diversion program
- about the amount of compensation you want to seek from the offender for any damages to property you may have experienced
- how the crime has affected you.
As a victim, you can decide whether or not you want to respond. You can write a letter back to them or go to the court on the day of the mention hearing, where a court registrar may ask to speak with you about your views.
The magistrate or judicial registrar must then decide whether the accused person is suitable for a diversion program. If you ask the court, they will let you know the outcome of the offender’s request for a diversion.
If you have questions about providing your views to the Magistrates Court you can contact the Victims of Crime Helpline between 8am and 11pm, seven days a week on 1800 819 817.
For more information, visit the Magistrates' Court website (External link)
More information about sentencing
For in-depth information on sentencing options in Victoria, visit the Sentencing Advisory Council's website (External link)
The Victims Register
If the offender does go to prison and you are a victim of a violent crime, you can apply to join the Victims Register. The Victims Register can give some information to victims about an offender’s sentence.
Decisions in the Children's Court
You can find information about sentencing options for young people in The court process in the Children's Court.
If the accused person is found not guilty
If a court finds the accused person not guilty, it means that there was not enough evidence to prove that they committed the crime, beyond reasonable doubt.
It does not mean that the crime did not happen, or that you were not a victim of the crime. Even if the accused person is not guilty, you can still get support from the Victims of Crime Helpline by calling 180 819 817.
You may also still be able to apply for financial assistance.