Breaching an AVO can lead to serious repercussions, especially if it involves violence.
But there is little consistency in the penalties that are imposed.
Many real life stories of AVO breaches show that those who are are guilty of contravening and AVO can walk away with anything from a non-conviction (called a ‘section 10 dismissal or conditional release order‘) all the way up to a prison sentence.
If you are facing charges of breaching an AVO, it can therefore be very difficult to know what the penalty is likely to be if you plead guilty or are found guilty.
In many cases, it depends on a number of different factors.
Some of these factors include whether you have a previous history of breaching AVOs, what the present breach involves and whether there have been any incidents of violence in the past.
Other factors including mental illness, substance abuse and any mitigating circumstances that led to the offence may be taken into consideration, and can lead to a more lenient penalty or diversion into treatment programs instead of the criminal justice system.
Over the last few years there have been plenty of AVO breach stories reported in the media, which illustrate the lack of consistency and the wide range in different penalties that people get for breaching an AVO.
What are the penalties for breaching an AVO?
The penalties for breaching an AVO depend largely on the criminal history of the defendant and whether any harm was inflicted on the complainant as a result of the breach.
Figures from the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) that were released in 2010 indicate that the most common penalty for breaching an AVO was a good behaviour bond.
In some cases, however, the penalties for breaching an AVO can be severe, including up to two years’ imprisonment and a $5,500 fine.
Cases involving AVO breaches
In a case earlier this year, a woman was jailed for breaching an AVO after a fire started at the home of a 73-year-old man who had taken out an AVO against her.
The 38-year-old woman was seen leaving the home, in southern NSW, shortly before the man died in the fire.
The AVO that Kellie Jane Cole was subject to prohibited her from going within 20 metres of the man’s house.
The victim was found dead in the fire at 5pm, and a neighbour reported seeing Ms Cole leaving 20 minutes previously.
Ms Cole was sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment after a court hearing.
The magistrate noted that this incident was the thirteenth time she had been in court facing charges of breaching an AVO, and therefore the offence was ‘mid range’ on the level of seriousness for breaching an AVO.
In another case in May this year, a 46-year-old man was jailed for three months for breaching an AVO.
Believed to be an alcoholic, the man was found with his elderly father by police after a phone call made by his sister.
The previous year, the man had been released with a 12-month suspended sentence after being convicted of assault occasioning actual bodily harm, property damage, and contravening a previous AVO.
Another recent example involves a father in Tweed Heads who is believed to have taken his two sons in breach of an AVO which prohibited him from having access to his children.
The father has been released on bail after having been arrested and charged with breaching an AVO, while the brothers have yet to be found and are believed to be hiding from authorities in bushland.
The father has not yet faced court.
Famous AVO breach stories
In 2011, actor Matthew Newton was charged with breaching an AVO after he repeatedly texted and called his ex-fiancée Rachael Taylor.
The AVO had been taken out against him after allegations that he verbally, physically and mentally assaulted her during the course of their relationship.
Mr Newton was ordered to return to treatment for his mental illness and remain under the care of his psychiatrist or face criminal charges for the AVO breach.
In another famous AVO breach, in 2011, swimmer Susie Maroney’s husband pleaded guilty to breaching an AVO against him.
In the incident, which took place in Cronulla, Susie Maroney alleged that her husband intimidated and threatened her and her family.
He was sentenced to a 12-month good behaviour bond.
He was then charged with a further breach in March 2012 leading to a two-month prison sentence when he knocked on the door of her home, which previous AVOs had prohibited him from approaching.
AVO breaches can lead to serious consequences, even imprisonment in some cases.
If you are facing charges of contravening an AVO, it’s best to seek experienced legal advice from a specialist criminal defence lawyer as soon as possible.