Just last week, the significance was given to Akon Guode, a mother who
killed three of her children after driving her car into a lake in Melbourne.
The main reason for the 81⁄2 year sentence reduction was that the trial
judge had not sufficiently taken Guide’s major depression into account.
While the circumstances of this offence were unusual, it is for offenders to
have mental health problems. have shown that almost half of Australian
prison entrants report being affected by a mental disorder. With that in
mind, how are mental health issues taken into account during the criminal
Where this happens, the sentencing judge must decide whether to take the
offender’s mental health problems into account. There will be a sentencing
hearing, in which evidence of the offender’s mental health condition will be
presented. The judge must consider this evidence, as well as the relevant
sentencing principles, in reaching a verdict.
- It may reduce an offender’s “moral culpability” or
blameworthiness for the offence.
This will only be the case where there was a link between the mental health
condition and the offence. For example, the condition may have impaired
the offender’s ability to think clearly about the offending behaviour. In such
circumstances, there is less need to denounce the relevant conduct or to
punish the perpetrator as harshly.
- A mental impairment may affect the that is imposed or its
conditions.For example, it may provide a reason for or for requiring an
offender to get
- The offender’s mental health condition may make him or her
an unsuitable vehicle for sending a deterrent message to the
One circumstance in which this may be the case is where the offender’s
condition is likely to attract community
- The offender’s mental impairment may make it inappropriate
to send him or her a deterrent message.
One of these is where the offender has an impaired capacity to learn from
the court’s statements.
- An offender’s mental health condition may result in
punishment weighing more heavily on him or her than it would
on a person in normal health.
This provides a reason for reducing the level of punishment.
- There may be a serious risk that imprisonment would cause a
deterioration in the offender’s mental health.
This also provides a basis for imposing a more lenient sanction.
While not included in the Verdins principles, mental health problems may
also affect an offender’s perceived prospects for This will often depend on
whether the relevant condition is considered treatable.
Each of these principles is mitigating – they point towards a more lenient
sentence being given. However, it is also possible for a mental health
condition to point towards the need for a more severe sentence. This will be
the case where the community is seen to require protection from the
offender due to that condition. the offender’s condition may be considered
untreatable, and his or her criminal behaviour unlikely to change as a
It will sometimes be the case that an offender’s mental health condition will
provide reasons for both reducing and increasing an offender’s sentence. In
such cases, the judge will need to balance all of the conflicting
considerations and determine the most appropriate sentence.
The Verdins principles apply to any kind of mental disorder or abnormality,
and have been used for offenders suffering from schizophrenia, depression
and bipolar disorder.