Theft or stealing is the dishonest ‘appropriation’ of property or goods belonging to another person. Appropriation means taking someone’s goods or property, but also means assuming any of the rights of the owner. Therefore it can include taking, possessing, offering to sell, damaging, lending or using an item of property that does not belong to you. For example, if you take money that belongs to someone else or lend someone jewellery that does not belong to you, you could be charged with Theft.
Elements of the offence
There are three elements of the offence of theft that the Police must establish:
- You ‘appropriated’ an item of ‘property’ that did not belong to you;
- You had the intention to permanently deprive the owner of the property (NB: this applies differently when the item is a motor vehicle);
- You acquired the item of property dishonestly, including if you were willing to pay for the item of property.
The item allegedly taken must meet the definition of property, which includes money, real property (such as land or houses) or personal property (such as jewellery, cars or artwork). The definition of property can also include intangible items, for example stocks, bonds or information.
When the item is a motor vehicle, the police not need to prove that you intended permanently deprive the owner of the vehicle if they have evidence that you used the vehicle in any manner without the consent of the owner. This is known as the “joy-riding” rule. They still have to prove the dishonesty element of the offence ie. that you knew or ought to have known the item was stolen.
If you are found guilty of theft, you may be liable for a period of imprisonment of up to a maximum of 10 years. A Court can also order that you return the property or pay the owner for the value of it. The penalty imposed will depend on the value of the property taken, the circumstances of the offence and the Court in which your case is heard. For example, the Magistrates’ Court can hear cases where the alleged theft was under $100,000 and can only impose a maximum penalty of 2 years imprisonment for one offence or 5 years imprisonment for two or more offences.
Is there a difference between theft and robbery?
Yes – robbery is a more serious offence involving the use of force to steal property. The maximum penalty for Robbery is 15 years imprisonment. If weapons, explosives or firearms were used in the commission of the robbery, this is classified as Armed Robbery and carries a penalty of up to 25 years imprisonment.
Available defences to theft
There are various defences to theft, including that the appropriation of property was not dishonest. For example, a defence exists if:
- If you believed you had a lawful right to the property;
- If you believed the owner consented or you did not intend to permanently deprive the owner of the item; and
- If you find the property and have taken reasonable steps to locate the owner.
It is also possible to argue that you were not the person who committed the alleged offence or that the item does not meet the definition of property. Therefore the circumstances of your case and your belief as to who owned the property are crucial.
Have a question about theft?
 Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) s 72.
 Roffel v R  VR 511.
 Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) 72.
 Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) 73(3).
 Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) 74.
 Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) 75.
 Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) 75A(1)(2).
 Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) 73(2).
Views expressed in this article are not necessarily endorsed by Leanne Warren and Associates.
The information, including statements, opinions, documents and materials contained in this article is for general information purposes only. The article does not take into account your specific needs, objectives or circumstances, and it is not legal advice or services. Any reliance you place on the article is at your own risk.
To the maximum extent permitted by law, Leanne Warren and Associates excludes all liability for any loss or damage of any kind (including special, indirect or consequential loss and including loss of business profits) arising out of or in connection with the article except to the extent that the loss or damage is directly caused by Leanne Warren and Associates’ fraud or willful misconduct.