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The Totality Principle when sentencing offenders in New South Wales – Crime



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29-year-old Samuel Davidson killed four children after he lost
control of his ute in 2020, after he hit a kerb at 111 km/h,
colliding into a group of seven kids in Sydney’s west in
Oatlands. Four of them were killed, leaving the other three
injured.

The age of the children killed ranged from 9 through to 13.

Samuel was intoxicated with cocaine, MDMA and alcohol after
consuming the substances earlier at home.

Samuel was initially sentenced for 
manslaughter by criminal negligence
 in April 2021 to
28-years imprisonment, which included a non-parole period of
21-years representing the minimum period of time he must spend
behind bars before being eligible for release back into the
community on parole.

Following his sentencing, he lodged an appeal to the 
Supreme Court of Criminal Appeal
. His ground of appeal was that
the sentence received was ‘manifestly excessive’.

The Court of Criminal Appeal accepted Samuel’s argument
which resulted in the court reducing his sentence by eight years.
The appeal court then imposed a sentence of 20-years, with a
15-years non-parole period meaning that he will be eligible for
release earlier.


The basis
 of the appeal court’s reasoning for reducing
the sentence here was “to produce an aggregate sentence of
28-years was grossly discordant with prevailing sentencing
practices…. A sentence for an offence of criminal negligence
which leaves a 29-year-old man of prior good character with good
prospects of rehabilitation no prospects of release until he is 50
is indeed crushing, and not proportionate to the totality of his
criminality
.”

The result was an aggregate sentence that was
manifestly excessive and inappropriately ‘crushing’ in the
circumstances of the case
.”

The court was faced with the difficult task of sentencing the
offender for the largest number of manslaughter charges arising
from one criminally negligent act in NSW thus far.

Samuel is eligible for release on parole back into the community
in January 2035.

WHAT IS THE TOTALITY PRINCIPLE IN SENTENCING OFFENDERS?

When a court imposes a sentence involving a number of offences,
whether the same, similar or different, the law allows the court to
impose an aggregate sentence to include more than one offence in
the one sentence, instead of having to impose separate individual
sentences for each offence. 
section 53A
 Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act allows for
this. When doing so, the court must outline the indicative
sentences for each offence.

The law in New South Wales says that when sentencing an offender
for more than one offence, or sentencing an offender serving an
existing sentence, the aggregate or overall sentence must be
‘just and appropriate’ to the total criminality of
offending conduct to avoid a crushing sentence.

The aggregate sentence must reflect the totality of the
offending. This is when the totality principle applies when
imposing an aggregate sentence for multiple offences. In addition,
the sentences imposed can be concurrent or accumulative or
partially concurrent with each other at the discretion of the
sentencing court.

The level of concurrency for each such sentence is discretionary
and must comprehend and reflect the criminality of the other
offence(s). This may vary from case to case.

The level of concurrency and accumulation between sentences is
also based and dependent upon the totality principle.

For example, if the sentence for one offence can comprehend and
reflect the criminality of the other, then the sentence should be
concurrent to avoid the risk for the combined sentences to exceed
that which is warranted to reflect the totality of the two.
Otherwise, the sentence should at least be partially cumulative to
avoid the risk that the total sentence fails to reflect the total
criminality of all the offences.

Factors to consider in determining the totality principle
include, whether the sentence for one offence comprehends and
reflects the criminality of the other, closeness in time and
proximity of the two or more offences, whether the victims are
separate or same, where two or more offences committed during the
course of a single episode are of a completely different nature and
each individually significant or extreme gravity (then some
accumulation will be warranted to address the criminality of the
two).

In summary, the case in Mill v The Queen (1988) said, that
the effect of the totality principle is to require a
sentence who has passed a series of sentences, each properly
calculated in relation to the offence for which it is imposed and
each properly made consecutive in accordance with the principles
governing consecutive sentences, to review the aggregate sentence
and consider whether the aggregate is ‘just and
appropriate’…. It must look at the totality of the criminal
behaviour and ask itself what is the appropriate sentence for all
the offences.

Here is more on the 
four angels laws
.

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