Penalties in Criminal Cases

What sentences can the Court impose?

Penalties in Criminal Cases

The Sentencing Act 1991 (Vic) is the legislation that governs criminal penalties.

The maximum penalty for any offence is stated in the law that governs the criminal offence and is most often found in either the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic), the Summary Offences Act 1966 (Vic) or the Commonwealth Crimes Act 1914 for federal offences. This page will detail sentences as they apply for state based (Victorian) offences for adult offenders.

Section 9 of the Sentencing Act 1991 states that the only purposes for which a sentence may be imposed are:

  1. To punish the offender to the extent and in a manner that is just in all the circumstances
  2. To deter the offender or other persons from committing offences of the same or similar character
  3. To establish conditions within which it is considered by the Court that the rehabilitation of the offender may be facilitated
  4. To manifest the denunciation by the Court of the type of conduct
  5. To protect the community from the offender
  6. A combination of two or more of the above purposes.


Dismissal Discharge
Adjourned Undertaking Fines
Diversion Community Corrections Order
Imprisonment Suspended Sentence
Licence cancellation Compensation

A dismissal applies where the Magistrate finds you guilty of an offence but orders that they will not impose a conviction or penalty against you.

A discharge is if the Magistrate finds you guilty but does not impose any penalty. The finding of guilt will be recorded and appear on a criminal record.

Adjourned Undertaking
Adjourned Undertakings replaced the old good behaviour bonds. An adjourned undertaking is a promise that you make to the Court to be of good behaviour and comply with any conditions of the Undertaking (for example to make a charitable donation) in the adjourned period. An Adjourned Undertaking can be imposed with or without conviction and will appear on a criminal record.

A large number of criminal matters heard in the Magistrates’ Court are dealt with by the offender being sentenced to pay a fine, financial penalty for the criminal conduct is the sentence imposed. Enforcement of payment is now regulated by Fines Victoria and any offender retains the option to convert a fine to unpaid community work in lieu of payment.  

Diversion is the opportunity generally for first time offenders to avoid a criminal record by literally diverting their case out of the Court room. To be eligible for diversion your offending must meet the criteria set by Victoria Police and you must be recommended for Diversion by the Police for this sentencing outcome to be an option. A Diversion plan will often include conditions such as writing a letter of apology to any victim, making a charitable donation, paying compensation for any damage caused and writing a letter of thanks to the Police.

Community Corrections Order
Community Corrections Orders (CCO) are a sentence that is served in the community. A CCO is generally a supervisory order incorporating punitive and therapeutic conditions. The conditions can include:

  • Supervision by Corrections (including attending at Corrections and receiving visits from Corrections at home and/or employment)
  • Completing a prescribed number of unpaid community work hours
  • Attend treatment for Drug and Alcohol addiction or abuse
  • Attend a psychologist or other medical practitioner for assessment and treatment
  • Comply with a non-association condition with a person or class of persons
  • Place or area exclusion zones
  • Be subject to a curfew between certain hours

Where a CCO is breached by either re-offending or non-compliance, the offender is returned to Court and can face re-sentencing.

A period of time ordered to be served in prison. This time can be either a straight sentence or if more than 12 months, a term incorporating a period of supervised release in the community on parole.

Suspended Sentence
Although now an abolished penalty, for offences committed prior to the abolition date a Magistrate can impose a term of imprisonment and due to exceptional circumstances personal to the offender decide to suspend that term and allow the offender to serve the term in the community.

Licence Cancellation
Certain offences carry a mandatory penalty that involves the imposition of an order cancelling an offender’s licence. These include drink driving, dangerous driving and theft of motor vehicle.

Where an offence is committed involving a motor vehicle, the Court retains a discretion to impose an order against a person’s ability to drive.  

The Court can order Compensation for damage to property, a victim’s loss of income or medical expenses.