Sentencing hearing

Here we explain who's who and what happens in a court at sentencing.

About courts

See the Structure of the criminal justice system in NSW.

When an offender is sentenced

An offender is sentenced after he or she:

  • has pleaded guilty to an offence or
  • has been found guilty of the offence after a summary hearing in the Local Court or
  • has been found guilty of the offence following a trial by judge alone or trial by jury in the District or Supreme Court.

What happens at a sentence hearing

Sentencing often takes place on a separate day to the trial or summary hearing and is conducted before the judge or magistrate.

The defence and the prosecution can make spoken and written arguments, and both sides can call evidence in support of their arguments.

The victim

Like all members of the community, the victim has the right to be present at the sentencing hearing.

The defence

Has the opportunity to put forward evidence and arguments about what the sentence should be. 

Evidence may include:

  • evidence of the offender's previous good character, usually in the form of statements from family members, friends, employers or other associate
  • documents such as psychiatric or psychological reports.
The prosecution

Assists the court by providing information about applicable law and relevant sentencing statistics and

  • may challenge evidence put forward by the defence at the sentencing hearing
  • may challenge or cross-examine defence witnesses 
  • will normally provide information concerning any prior criminal convictions of the offender.
Community and Offender Services

​The court often obtains a pre-sentence report which will detail the offender's background and any appropriate or available sentencing options.

For young offenders, Youth Justice must provide a background report detailing this information.

The judge or magistrate

An offender can only be sentenced for the charge of which he or she has been found guilty. The judge or magistrate can only take into account factors that are relevant to that charge.

The judge or magistrate will often make sentencing remarks to clarify his/her decision.

Last updated:

01 Nov 2022

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