Dangerous Driving is a very serious type of offence, which can carry sentences of up to 10 years imprisonment if the driving caused the death of a person, and up to 7 years if the driving caused serious injury to a person (termed “grievous bodily harm”)
The Dangerous Driving offences are considered so serious, and of such concern to the Courts, that a Guideline Judgment was promulgated not long after the offences came into being
Dangerous Driving Guideline Judgment
The Dangerous Driving guideline judgment is the case known as R v Whyte (2002) 55 NSWLR 252
In this guideline judgment relating to dangerous driving offences, the “typical” case of someone charged with a Dangerous Driving offence was considered, and thought to frequently have the following characteristics:
(i) young offender
(ii) of good character with no or limited prior convictions
(iii) death or permanent injury to a single person
(iv) the victim is a stranger
(v) no or limited injury to the driver or the driver’s intimates
(vi) genuine remorse
(vii) plea of guilty (although this is of less utility than with other types of offence).
Because these are characteristics often found in a person charged with a Dangerous Driving offence, youth, good character and a clear record are not accorded the same weight for dangerous driving offences as they would be for other types of offences.
Aggravating factors as to culpability, and in particular, moral culpability include:
(i) extent and nature of the injuries inflicted
(ii) number of people put at risk
(iii) degree of speed
(iv) degree of intoxication or of substance abuse
(v) erratic or aggressive driving
(vi) competitive driving or showing off
(vii) length of the journey during which others were exposed to risk
(viii) ignoring of warnings
(ix) escaping police pursuit
(x) degree of sleep deprivation
(xi) failing to stop.
Anyone charged with a Dangerous Driving offence can reasonably expect a custodial sentence, unless the offender has a low level of moral culpability, as in the case of momentary inattention or misjudgment. Further, if an offender’s moral culpability is high, then a full-time custodial head sentence of 3 years in the case of death, and 2 years in the case of grievous bodily harm, would be appropriate.
A number of considerations must be taken into account when sentencing for offences of dangerous driving, especially where that dangerous driving has caused a death:
1. The legislature has always placed a premium upon human life, and the taking of a human life by driving a motor vehicle dangerously is to be regarded as a crime of some seriousness.
2. The real substance of the offence is not just the dangerous driving; it is the dangerous driving in association with the taking of a human life.
3. Such is the need for public deterrence in this type of case, the youth of any offender is given less weight as a subjective matter than in other types of cases.
4. The courts must tread warily in showing leniency for good character in such cases.
5. So far as youthful offenders of good character who are guilty of dangerous driving, therefore, the sentence must be seen to have a reasonable proportionality to the objective circumstances of the crime, and persuasive subjective circumstances must not lead to inadequate weight being given to those objective circumstances.
6. Any alternative to full time custody has a strong element of leniency built into it.
7. A full-time custodial sentence is often necessary, although there must always be the possibility of a non-custodial sentence, especially where there was but a momentary lapse of concentration.
In terms of seriousness, the greater the number of deaths, and/or the greater the number of persons injured, the graver the crime becomes.
It is never easy for a Magistrate or Judge to send a youthful person of good character to gaol but, where it is appropriate, it is something which must be done as a deterrent to others. The deterrent effect will usually outweigh the fact that the particular offender has already learned his or her lesson. Also, punishment remains an important purpose which the sentence must serve.
The fact that the offender suffered serious injuries in the collision is another factor that may be taken into account in relation to the offender’s own subjective circumstances. The court may also take into account that the offender has paid or is required to pay a significant amount in damages. These types of matters are referred to as “extra curial” punishments or effects – i.e. punishments over and above those imposed by the Court.
If you have been charged with a Dangerous Driving offence, you should not delay in seeking legal assistance – these are very serious charges for which jail terms are often given
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(02) 9533 2269.