It is an offence to ‘handle’ stolen goods. A person handles stolen goods if they know or believe that goods in their possession are stolen yet receives or brings such goods into the State of Victoria, and disposes, retains or removes such goods for the benefit of another person.
Examples can include transferring money fraudulently obtained into your bank account or paying your acquaintance cash for a bike that you suspect could be stolen. Another example could be modifying serial numbers on goods, such as electrical items.
Elements of the Offence
The Police must establish all the elements beyond reasonable doubt to prove the offence. The elements of handling stolen goods are that you:
- Handled goods;
- That the goods were stolen at the time you handled them;
- That you knew at the time you handled the goods that they were stolen; and
- The handling of the good was dishonest.
‘Goods’ can include money and any property, except land (although can include items stolen from land). “Handling’ can include receiving (taking into your possession), transporting the goods into Victoria, destroying, removing or disposing of goods. A person that simply receives stolen goods does not meet the definition of ‘handling’. You must do another act of either retaining, assisting another to retain or arranging for the retainment of the goods.
The goods must have been ‘stolen’ or appropriated by way of theft or obtained by deception, blackmail or other offence in Victoria. If a child or mentally impaired person ‘stole’ the goods, which you handled, the second element will not be met as the goods cannot be classified as ‘stolen goods’.
It is also imperative that the Police establish that you had an intention to take the goods into your possession and had knowledge that the goods were stolen. The Police must establish that you had actual knowledge and merely suspecting the goods were stolen is not enough to satisfy the elements.
The last element of ‘dishonesty’ means that you acted without any legal right or claim to the goods.
Possible Penalty for Handling Stolen Goods
The penalty will depend on the specific circumstances of your case. The maximum penalty for handling stolen goods is 15 years imprisonment. The maximum penalty for one charge in the Magistrates’ Court jurisdiction is 2 years imprisonment.
Defences for Handling Stolen Goods
It is a defence to the charge if you can establish that you legitimately purchased the goods suspected of being ‘stolen’. If you did not have knowledge that the goods in your possession were stolen, this may be grounds for a defence. It may also be a defence if you were under duress at the time you are alleged to have handled the stolen goods. There may also be an argument about an honest and reasonable mistake or there may be a factual dispute to the charges. However, it is imperative to seek legal advice as soon as practicable so that an appropriate defence can be argued.
 Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) s 88(1).
 Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) s 88; R v Henderson & Warwick (2009) 22 VR 662.
 Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) s 71(1).
 R v Cottrell  1 VR 143.
 R v Brown  1 QB 105.
 Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) s 81(1); 90(2)(4).
 Walters v Lunt  2 All ER 645.
 DPP v Brooks  AC 862.
 R v Henderson & Warwick (2009) 22 VR 662).
 R v Salvo  VR 401.
 Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) s 88(2).