If you take property (excluding land) belonging to another without their permission, you may have committed theft. This includes shoplifting.
Theft is a criminal offence as well as a civil action (tort against property). This means that you can be charged by the police or have an action brought against you by the owner of the property.
What is theft?
Theft is defined under section 72 of the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) as:
- Stealing of property;
- Belonging to another;
- By a person (defendant) acting dishonestly; and
- With the intention of permanently depriving the owner of the property.
These are the elements to theft. So to be convicted of theft, the police or prosecution must prove all four of these elements against you.
What is the difference between theft, robbery and burglary?
Theft is the sole act of stealing another’s property.
Robbery is theft plus the additional act of assault (threatening someone or using force on another).
Burglary is entering into a building (or piece of land) without the owner’s consent, with the intent to steal, causing assault to someone in the building, or causing damage to any property along the way.
Are there any defences to theft?
You won’t be convicted of theft if you can show that one or more of the four elements for theft do not exist.
This means that you will need to show that either:
- The property taken did not belong to the victim;
- You did not take the property (or any other factual dispute);
- You made an honest mistake in taking the property (e.g. you honestly believed the property belong to you or that you had permission to take it);
- You did not act dishonestly (e.g. you forgot about the property and fully intended to pay for it); or
- You had no intention of permanently depriving the owner of it.
What if I am accused of shoplifting?
Shoplifting is a form of theft. In Victoria, police can choose to issue an on-the-spot fine (or infringement notice) under section 74A of the Crimes Act 1958 instead of charging you with a crime, if:
- The value of the goods taken is less than $600;
- This is your first shoplifting offence; and
- You compensate the shop owner for the value of the goods or return the goods in their original condition.
The benefit of a fine is that you will not have a criminal conviction recorded against you on your criminal record. Paying the fine will not be an admission of guilt, and there may be payment arrangements available to help you pay off the fine.
Consequences of theft in Victoria
If the police fine you for shoplifting, you will need to pay a fine worth two penalty units. This totals to $303.34 ($151.67 x 2) under the current penalty rates.
If you are charged with theft (under section 74 of the Crimes Act), you face a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment. Your matter will be heard in the Magistrates Court, unless your case relates to property valuing more than $100,000 in total. In this case, you will appear before the County Court. It is wise to get legal advice if you are facing court for theft.
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