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Cars and theft

Information about theft offences that involve motor vehicles or boats.

There are several different kinds of behaviours involving a motor vehicle that may result in a person being charged with a property offence:

Theft of a motor vehicle

If a person takes a motor vehicle belonging to another person they are charged under the general offence of theft under the Crimes Act 1958.

What is a motor vehicle?

A motor vehicle is defined to include a vessel, that is, boat, whether or not there is a motor.

See s. 74, 73(14),(15)—Crimes Act 1958 (Vic)(opens in a new window).

What the prosecution has to prove

To be found guilty of theft of a motor vehicle the prosecution must prove that:

  • the vehicle was appropriated
  • the vehicle belonged to another, and
  • the person had a dishonest state of mind.

Intention to permanently deprive (captures joyriding)

Unlike other theft offences, there is no need to the prosecution to prove that a person intended to permanently deprive the owner of the vehicle. This is because of a deeming provision which states that if there is:

...proof that a person charged took or in any manner used the vehicle (or aircraft) without consent of the owner or person in lawful possession of the vehicle shall be conclusive proof that the person charged intended to permanently deprive the owner...

This deeming provision ensures that people intending only to go for a joyride are captured by the offence of theft.

See s. 74, 73(14)(15)—Crimes Act 1958 (Vic)(opens in a new window).

Which court will hear the charge?

Although theft is an indictable offence, the offence can be heard in the Magistrates' Court if the prosection and the accused person agree.

See Schedule 2, cl. 4.4—Criminal Procedure Act 2009 (Vic)(opens in a new window).

Maximum penalty

The maximum penalty for theft is 10 years jail.

According to the Sentencing Advisory council, people accused of theft of a motor vehicle were the theft category where the person was most likely to get a custodial sentence. During the 5 year period examined (2012–2017) 45.8% of people charged, where theft of a motor vehicle was the primary offence, were given a custodial sentence.

See Sentencing Advisory Council—Sentencing outcomes in the Magistrates' Court for theft(opens in a new window).

Licence suspension or cancellation for theft offence

If a person is found guilty of stealing or attempting to steal a motor vehicle the court may suspend or cancel any driver licence or permit the person has.

If the person is convicted of the offence, the court has no discretion and must cancel or suspend the licence or permit.

If the person has a licence from interstate or another country, the court may (or must if convicted) disqualify the driver from driving in Victoria.

If the person is unlicenced, the court may (or must if convicted) disqualify the driver from getting a licence.

If the court makes an order to suspend, cancel or disqualify a driver because of a motor vehicle theft charge, the court must send a copy of that order to VicRoads

See s. 89(4), 87Q—Sentencing Act 1991 (Vic)(opens in a new window).

How long does licence ban last?

The court has discretion to decide how long the driver's licence or permit is to be cancelled or suspended for. If no period is specified, then the licence is suspended or cancelled for 3 months.

See s. 89(5)—Sentencing Act 1991 (Vic)(opens in a new window).

Passenger in the car

A person who rides in a car that they know to be stolen may be charged with the offence of theft.

See W (a child) v Woodrow [1988] VR 358

Theft from a motor vehicle

A person can be charged with theft if they take something from a motor vehicle.

See s. 74—Crimes Act 1958 (Vic)(opens in a new window).

Carjacking

A person may be found guilty of a carjacking offence if they steal a vehicle and immediately before (or at the time of) doing so they:

  • use force against another person, or
  • seeks to make the person fear that force will be used against them or someone else.

A vehicle could include a motor vehicle or a boat.

Maximum penalty

The maximum penalty for carjacking is 15 years jail.

Note: This offence is a category 2 offence under the Sentencing Act 1991. This means that a custodial sentence must be imposed unless a specified reasons exist.

See s. 79—Crimes Act 1958 (Vic)(opens in a new window) and When custodial sentences are required.

Aggravated carjacking

In addition to the elements for a carjacking offence, a person may be found guilty of aggravated carjacking if they commit carjacking and the person:

  • is armed with a firearm, offensive weapon, imitation firearm, explosive or imitation explosive, or
  • a person is injured during the carjacking.

See s. 79—Crimes Act 1958 (Vic)(opens in a new window).

How injury is defined

An injury is defined very broadly. It may be any physical injury or harm to mental health, whether temporary or permanent.

See s. 15—Crimes Act 1958 (Vic)(opens in a new window).

Maximum penalty

The maximum penalty for aggravated carjacking is 25 years jail.

Note: This offence is a category 1 offence under the Sentencing Act 1991. This means that a custodial sentence must be imposed with a minimum parole period of 3 years fixed, unless a specified reason exists.

See s. 79—Crimes Act 1958 (Vic)(opens in a new window) and When custodial sentences are required.

More information

Legislation

Crimes Act 1958 (Vic)

  • s. 72—basic definition of theft
  • s. 73(14), (15)—further explanation of theft
  • s. 74—theft
  • s. 79—carjacking
  • s. 79A—aggravated carjacking
  • s. 87Q—matters to be sent to VicRoads

See Crimes Act 1958 (Vic)(opens in a new window).

Sentencing Act 1991 (Vic)

  • s. 89—suspension or cancellation of driver licence or learner permit and driver disqualification for certain motor vehicle offences

See Sentencing Act 1991 (Vic)(opens in a new window).

Criminal Procedure Act 2009 (Vic)

  • s. 28—indictable offences that may be heard and determined summarily
  • s. 29—when an indictable offence may be heard and determined summarily
  • Schedule 2—Indictable offences that can be heard summarily:
    • cl. 4.4—theft

See Criminal Procedure Act 2009 (Vic)(opens in a new window).

Reference

VLA website

This site has information provided by our professional support lawyers to assist lawyers when they are giving advice to adult suspects. Scroll down to the 'Offence snapshots for duty lawyers' under 'Practice updates and materials'.

  • Theft.

See Information for lawyers—Practice resources—Criminal law resources.

Sentencing Advisory Council

This report, released in December 2017, looks at sentencing practices for 5 categories of theft from a shop, from a motor vehicle, theft of a motor vehicle, theft of a bicycle and general theft (this category includes anything not covered in the other 4 categories, such as theft from a house.

See Sentencing Advisory Council—Sentencing outcomes in the Magistrates' Court for theft(opens in a new window).

Victorian Sentencing Manual

The Judicial College's Sentencing Manual has a chapter on theft and related offences.

See '32.3—General considerations for property offences' in Victorian Sentencing Manual—Property and dishonesty offences – 32.

Updated