Sentencing violent, sexual and drug offences

Different laws apply to certain offences in Queensland. These include sexual offences against children, drug offences and domestic and family violence.

These laws are complex, so we have only summarised them on this page.

We go into more detail about how these laws affect sentencing in the Queensland Sentencing Guide.

When a court is sentencing a person for a violent offence, or an offence that caused physical harm to another person, the following sentencing principles don’t apply:

  • Giving a person a sentence that lets them stay in the community is better than one that doesn’t.
  • A prison sentence should only be used as a last resort.

The court must think about:

  • the risk of physical harm to members of the community if the person is not given a prison sentence
  • the need to protect the community from that risk
  • the victim
  • the type of violence and how serious it was.

Some violent offences may be subject to the serious violent offences scheme (we talk about this below) or other special laws. For example, the law in Queensland says that a person convicted of murder must be given a life sentence.

People found guilty of sexual offences relating to a child under 16, or child exploitation material (pornography) offences, must serve some part of their sentence in prison.

However, the court can give a different sentence if there are special reasons (called ‘exceptional circumstances’). For example, one reason could be if the person found guilty of the offence was close in age to the victim.

When deciding the sentence, the court must think about:

  • the child’s age and any relationship between the person committing the offence and the child
  • the nature of the offending and its effect on the child
  • the need to protect the child or other children from the risk of the person reoffending
  • the need to deter this type of behaviour to protect children.

Some serious sexual offences may be subject to the serious violent offences scheme or laws that say the person must serve a life sentence for a repeat offence.

If a court decides that an offence is a domestic violence offence, it must treat the offence as being more serious than if it hadn’t happened in a domestic and family violence situation.

This might mean, for example, the person who commits the offence is at greater risk of receiving a prison sentence.

Offences recorded as a 'domestic violence offence’ will appear in a person’s criminal history.

For some drug offences, such as possessing a dangerous drug, a lower maximum penalty applies if the person is a drug dependent person.

A drug dependent person is a person who uses drugs often, which causes them to lack control over their drug use. They are likely to suffer from mental or physical distress if they stop using drugs.

A drug dependent person may also be eligible for a special kind of sentencing order called a Drug and Alcohol Treatment Order, which can only be given by the Queensland Drug and Alcohol Court.

Serious drug offences, such as drug trafficking, may be subject to the serious violent offences scheme.

Some offences cause more harm to victims and the community than others. These include specific violent, sexually violent and serious drug offences.

In Queensland, if a person is given a sentence of 10 years or more for committing one of these offences, a court must declare them convicted of a serious violent offence. This means the person has to spend at least 80% of their sentence (or 15 years, if that is lower) in prison before they can apply for parole.

A judge can also decide that a person has committed a serious violent offence if they are given a sentence of less than 10 years (but doesn’t have to).

The Council recently reviewed the serious violent offences scheme and published a report making 26 recommendations to reform the scheme.

Queensland has tough laws about offences committed by people participating in criminal organisations.

These include lengthy mandatory prison terms that must be served entirely in prison, with no parole.

Queensland courts also hear cases and sentence people for Commonwealth offences.

These include, but are not limited to:

  • Centrelink fraud
  • terrorism
  • people smuggling
  • internet or child pornography material offences.

The sentencing factors and penalty types are different because Commonwealth laws apply.

This information is not intended to provide legal advice and has been prepared for the purposes of providing information only. While all reasonable care has been taken in the preparation of this information, no liability is assumed for any errors or omissions.