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Possible penalties and sentences

If you are found guilty of an offence, the court convicts you and will make an order saying how you will be punished. This is called the penalty or sentence.

How does the court decide what my penalty or sentence should be?

The Penalties and Sentences Act sets out the sorts of things the court needs to consider when deciding what your penalty or sentence should be.

The types of things the court will consider include:

  • the need to punish you for what you have done
  • if you need some help to make sure that you do not break the law again
  • what sort of punishment will stop you from committing the same or a similar offence again
  • the need to make it clear to the community that this type of behaviour is unacceptable
  • the need to protect the community
  • the nature of the offence and how serious the offence was
  • any damage, injury or loss caused by the offence
  • how your offence has affected other people
  • how much you assisted law enforcement in the investigation of the offence or other offences
  • your character, age and intellectual capacity.

What types of penalties and sentences can the court order?

The type of penalty or sentence that the court may order depends on what offence you have committed.

The court can give you one of the following penalties:

  • fine
  • restitution
  • good behaviour bond
  • probation
  • community service
  • graffiti removal order, if you are charged with a graffiti offence
  • banning order
  • intensive corrections order
  • suspended sentence
  • jail sentence.

You could be given more than one of these penalties (eg you might have to pay a fine and be supervised on probation).

You will be given a copy of any court order. You should always keep a copy of any documents you get from the court and any letters or documents that your lawyer has sent you. If you lose a court document, you may be able to get another copy from the court.

If you do not understand your penalty or sentence, you should get legal advice.

Fine

The court will order you to pay the fine within a certain period of time. If you do not pay the fine in time (called ‘in default’), you may be sent to a jail for a period of time.

For example, the magistrate might say “$200 in default 5 days, three months to pay”. This means that you have three months to pay the $200 fine and if you are in default, you may be sent to jail for 5 days.

If you don’t pay the fine on time, you don’t go straight to jail. The court will send notice of the fine to the State Penalties and Enforcement Registry (SPER) who have wide powers to collect and enforce unpaid fines.

If you are unable to pay the fine, you can apply for:

  • an instalment plan that gives you time to pay your fine by instalments over time
  • a Centrepay instalment plan which allows you to pay the fine in instalments from your Centrelink payment
  • a fine option order, which allows you to do community service instead of paying the fine.

If you refuse to pay the fine, SPER can:

  • suspend your driver’s licence
  • direct your bank to transfer funds from your account to SPER
  • direct your employer deduct a certain amount from your wage each month
  • register an interest over your property
  • immobilize your vehicle
  • seize and sell your property
  • issue a warrant for your arrest and imprisonment.

SPER may also charge you an enforcement fee on top of the original fine if they take one of the above enforcement actions.

If you are unable to pay the fine and are concerned about the enforcement action SPER is taking against you, you should get legal advice.

Restitution

The court can order you to pay restitution to a victim of an offence. Restitution is a sum of money that you pay to a victim of an offence as compensation for loss, damage or injury you caused.

For example, if you kick a car door and cause damage, the court can order you to pay the car’s owner the cost to repair the damage.

An order for restitution may state:

  • how much you have to pay
  • who you have to pay the money to
  • the time within which the money is to be paid
  • the way in which the restitution is to be paid
  • that you will be sent to prison for a period of time if you fail to pay.

The court may refer the restitution to SPER for collection and enforcement.

If you don’t pay the money on time:

  • the victim may sue you for the money
  • you may have to go to prison for a set number of days.

You cannot apply for a fine option order (community service) instead of paying restitution.

If you cannot pay the restitution within the time ordered by the court, you should get legal advice about your options.

Good behaviour bond

The court may place you on a good behaviour bond. A good behaviour bond is a promise that you will not break the law for a period of time.

You will need to sign a document called a recognisance in which you accept that you have an obligation to be of good behaviour for a period of time and will list an amount of money you must pay to the court if you break the law while under the good behaviour bond.

If you break the law while you are on the good behaviour bond you will have to pay an amount money ordered by the court and the court may issue a warrant for you to be arrested and brought back to the court for the original offence and given a different sentence.

Probation

The court may order you to be put on probation. If you are on probation, you must not break the law for a period of time and you will also be required to meet other conditions set out in the order.

You can only be given a probation order if a corrective services officer thinks you are suitable and you agree to the order.

A probation order can be for a period of time from six months to three years.

The probation order must contain conditions that you must:

  • not break the law during the period of the order
  • report to a probation officer at a community corrections office after sentencing (usually within 48 hours)
  • regularly report to and be visited by a probation officer
  • tell your probation officer within 2 days if you change address
  • not leave Queensland without the approval of your probation officer
  • follow every reasonable direction of your probation officer.

The probation order may also include other conditions specific to your situation, such as drug testing, counselling or paying restitution.

If you do not meet the conditions of the probation order, you may be charged with breach of probation and your probation may be cancelled. If your probation is cancelled before the time it should have finished, you will have to go back to court for the original offence and be given a different sentence.

If you breach a probation order, you should get legal advice.

Community service

The court may order you to do community service. Community service is unpaid work that you do under the direction of a community corrections officer.

You can only be put on community service if a corrective services officer thinks you are suitable and you agree to the community service.

You can only be put on community service if a corrective services officer thinks you are suitable and in most circumstances, you must agree to the community service. There are some offences for which community service is mandatory. See mandatory community service.

Usually, you must finish your community service hours within 12 months from the date you are sentenced, but the court can order you to complete your community service hours in a shorter period of time or extend the time.

The community service order must contain conditions that you must:

  • not break the law during the period of the order
  • report to a community corrections officer after sentencing (usually within 48 hours)
  • regularly report to and be visited by a community corrections officer
  • carry out the community service work satisfactorily in the time set out in the order
  • tell your community corrections officer within 2 days if you change address
  • not leave Queensland without the approval of your community corrections officer
  • follow every reasonable direction of your community corrections officer.

If you do not meet the conditions of the community service order, you can be charged with a breach of a community service order and you will have to go back to court and you may be given a different sentence for the original offence.

If your circumstances change and you cannot finish the community service, you must apply to have the community service order changed. You should get legal advice.

Mandatory community service

If you are convicted of particular offences involving violence and the offence was committed in a public place while you were intoxicated, the court must make a community service order in addition to any other penalties you receive, unless the court is satisfied that you are not capable of complying with the order due to a physical, intellectual or psychiatric disability.

You should get legal advice.

Graffiti removal orders

If you are convicted by a court of a graffiti offence and you were 12 or older at the time you committed the offence, the court must make a graffiti removal order, unless the court is satisfied that you are not capable of complying with the order due to a physical, intellectual or psychiatric disability.

A graffiti removal order is an order that you carry out unpaid work removing graffiti. See Graffiti for more information.

Banning order

A banning order is an order that stops you from entering or remaining at:

  • a licensed premises
  • an area which is close to licensed premises (eg a stated distance from licensed premises, a street near licensed premises or a safe night precinct), or
  • an event at which alcohol is being sold.

A court may make a banning order if:

  • you are convicted of an offence that involves violence or threats of violence to a person or property
  • the offence occurred in a licensed premises or in the vicinity of a licensed premises, and
  • the court thinks that the order is necessary to protect the
    • the good order of a licensed premises and the area around the a licensed premises, or
    • the safety and welfare of others attending the licenses premises or the area around a licensed premises

A banning order should not stop you from going to your own home, place or employment or place of education or any other place that the court thinks you need to access in order to prevent undue hardship to you or a member of your family.

If you are given a banning order, you may be required to attend a police station to have your photo taken.

A copy of your banning order and photograph may be distributed to prevent you from entering the places stated in the order (eg it may be given to the owner or manager of a licensed premises so they can stop you from entering).

You cannot apply to the court to have a banning order amended or revoked until at least 6 months after the order was made. You should get legal advice.

If you disobey a banning order you may be charged with an offence. You should get legal advice.

Intensive correction order

An intensive correction order (ICO) is a jail sentence but you do not spend time in jail, you stay living in the community. You can only get an ICO if the court gives you a jail sentence for one year or less.

An ICO can only be made if you agree to the order being made and agree to comply with the conditions of the order.

The intensive correction order must contain conditions that you must:

  • not break the law during the period of the order
  • report to a corrections officer within the time stated in the order
  • report to and be visited by your community corrections officer at least twice a week for the period of time the order is in place
  • take part in counselling and attend any other programs as directed by the court or your corrections officer
  • carry out any community service work satisfactorily in the time set out in the order
  • reside at community residential facilites for periods (not longer than 7 days) if directed by your corrections officer
  • tell your community corrections officer within 2 days if you change address
  • not leave Queensland without the approval of your corrections officer
  • follow every reasonable direction of your community corrections officer.

An ICO may also contain requirements that you submit to medical, psychiatric or psychological treatment and that you comply with other conditions that the court considers necessary to stop you from offending again and to make sure that you behave in a way that is acceptable to the community.

If you do not meet the conditions of the order, you will almost certainly have to spend the time in jail instead of in the community.

If you are unable to meet the conditions of the order or if you are unsure about what is required of you, you should get legal advice.

Suspended sentence

Usually when the court says you are sentenced to jail, you go to jail straight away from court. You do not get a chance to go home first before being taken to prison. However, the court can order that your jail sentence is suspended for a period of time. From the time the sentence is suspended, you do not have to be in jail.

If the court gives you a jail sentence for five years or less, the court can suspend your sentence for up to five years. This is called the operational period.

The suspension can start:

  • immediately, called wholly suspended - so you do not go to jail at all as long as you don't break the law during the operational period or
  • after you spend some time in jail, called partly suspended - so you go to jail for a while and then leave when the suspension starts as long as you don't break the law during the operational period.

If you are on a suspended sentence and you break the law, even for something not very serious, you should get legal advice immediately, especially before going to court and pleading guilty to breaking the law. The lawyer will need to know the exact date the suspended sentence was ordered and how long the court ordered for the operational period. If you do not know these things, you can go and ask the court where you were sentenced to look up the date for you and tell you the operational period.

Jail

If you are found guilty of a serious offence or if you are a repeat offender, you may be sentenced to a period of imprisonment to be served in a correctional centre.

You may not end up staying in jail for your entire sentence. You can get legal advice about how your sentence is calculated, parole and early release from Prisoners’ Legal Service.

You still have rights while you are in jail. See Prison.

If you are under 17 years old, you will be sent to a youth detention centre, which is a where young people are detained. See Young people and the justice system.

Offender levy

If you are found guilty of an offence in a Queensland court, you will also have to pay the offender levy in addition to any penalty or sentence you receive. The offender levy is an administrative fee that defendants found guilty in Queensland courts must pay.

The offender levy is not an order of the court and it is separate from your penalty or sentence. The court will not take into account that you will also have to pay an offender levy when deciding what your penalty or sentence will be. See Offender levy.

If you have questions about your sentence or what the court may do, you should get legal advice.

Do I need legal advice?

You may need legal advice if you

  • have been charged with an offence and you're going to court
  • have been convicted of an offence by a court but don't understand what you have to do
  • are on a good behaviour bond and you broke the law again
  • are on probation and broke the law or did not meet the conditions of your probation order
  • are on a community service order and you have broken the conditions of your order
  • were given a suspended sentence and you have broken the law
  • have been given an Intensive Correction Order and you have broken the law
  • have any questions about your sentence or what the court may do.

Get legal advice

Legal Aid Queensland may provide advice on most areas of criminal law.

If you have been charged with a serious offence or have an urgent matter, we might suggest that you apply for a grant of legal aid if you are eligible, or that you seek private representation, rather than wait for a legal advice booking.

The following services may also be able to provide you with legal advice and assistance.

Community legal centres - many CLCs provide free legal advice and information on criminal law. Check with them to see if they can help with your matter.

Queensland Law Society can refer you to a specialist private solicitor for advice or representation on criminal law matters.

Important: before seeking legal advice about a criminal charge, you should collect your QP9 from the police prosecutor at your first court date. If you were unable to collect it at your first court date, you should apply to the police/prosecutions office for your QP9. You will need to present photo identification and a written request to the police prosecutor. Contact your local police station if you are unsure where to apply.

Who else can help?

These organisations may also be able to help with your matter. They do not provide legal advice.

Queensland courts provide information for people going to court (defendants and witnesses) and general information about the different types of courts in Queensland, eg Magistrates, District, Supreme, Mental Health Court, Childrens court, Coroners court, and more.

State Penalties Enforcement Registry (SPER) is responsible for the collection and enforcement of unpaid infringement notice fines, court ordered monetary fines and Offender Recovery orders issued in Queensland. You can make arrangements to pay SPER an amount each week/fortnight/month.

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