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Theft offence

Information about the charge of theft in Victoria.

What is theft?

Theft is defined as dishonestly appropriating property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other (person or company) of that property. Property includes money, and all other property (real and personal), including things in action and other intangible property.

Apart from general theft, the most common types of theft include theft from a shop, theft of a motor vehicle, theft from a motor vehicle and theft of a bicycle.

See ss. 71, 72, 73, 74—Crimes Act 1958(opens in a new window) and Sentencing Advisory Council—Sentencing outcomes in the Magistrates' Court for theft(opens in a new window).

What is property?

For theft to be made out, the property must have some value. So, under this provision of the Crimes Act, property could include:

  • electricity or gas
  • credit card, cheques or money
  • personal property
  • vehicles, such as cars, boats, aircraft or bicycles
  • animals
  • land.

See ss. 71, 72, 73, 74—Crimes Act 1958(opens in a new window).

Things in action

Things in action are intangible property rights that are enforceable through court action. They include a cash bank balance, cheques or shares.

What the prosecution must prove

For a person to be found guilty of theft, the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that the property belonged to another and the accused person:

  • acted dishonestly when taking the property
  • did not own the property
  • were not intending to return the property to the owner.

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

Can the matter be heard in the Magistrate's Court?

The offence of theft varies widely in terms of seriousness. Although theft is an indictable offence, it is likely that a charge of theft can be dealt with summarily (this is, in the magistrate's court) unless:

  • the amount of the stolen goods are worth more than $100,000, or
  • the person is also facing more serious charges as well.

Both the accused and the court must agree to a matter being heard in the Magistrates' Court. According to a 2017 report by the Sentencing Advisory Council, 86.8% of theft charges were heard in the Magistrates' Court in Victoria between 2012 and 2017.

See Which offences can be heard in the Magistrates' Court? and Sentencing Advisory Council—Sentencing outcomes in the Magistrates' Court for theft(opens in a new window).

Maximum penalty

The maximum penalty for theft is 10 years jail and/or a fine of 1,200 penalty units.

If the matter is heard in the Magistrates' Court the maximum penalty will be 2 years jail.

Factors taking into account in sentencing may be:

  • the value of the property stolen,
  • the benefit obtained,
  • the number of priors the accused has for similar offences
  • the motivation for the offending (for example, was the person drug addicted, or seeking to make a profit?)
  • the personal circumstances of the accused person.

The penalty may be higher if the theft was sophisticated, calculated, carefully designed or highly organised.

See:

Diversion

It may be possible to seek diversion for a charge of theft, depending on the seriousness of the charge. Generally this must be the person's first offence.

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

Person may also be charged with burglary

It is not uncommon for a person charged with theft to also be charged with burglary if the prosecution can prove that a person entered premises with the intention to stealing. For example, a person who breaks into a garage and then steals a lawnmower can be charged with burglary for breaking into the property and then theft for taking the lawnmower.

See Robbery, burglary and home invasion.

Court may order restitution

In addition to other penalties, the court may order that the thief pay restitution to the owner for the loss of their property.

See Compensation and restitution—Stolen property.

Possible defences

The taking of property will not be dishonest if the person acted with the belief that:

  • they had a legal right to deprive the owner of the property
  • they believed the owner would agree to their use of the property
  • the owner could not be discovered by taking reasonable steps.

See s, 73(2)—Crimes Act 1958(opens in a new window).

Theft of firearm

A separate offence has been created for people who steal firearms.

The offence is not triable summarily and must be heard in the County or Supreme Court.

Maximum penalty

The maximum penalty is 1800 penalty units or 15 years jail.

See s. 74AA—Crimes Act 1958 (Vic)(opens in a new window) and What is a firearm?

More information

Legislation

Crimes Act 1958 (Vic)

  • s. 71—definitions
  • s. 72—basic definition of theft
  • s. 73—further definition of theft
  • s. 74—theft
  • s. 74AA—theft of a firearm

See Crimes Act 1958 (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
    • cl. 4.6—burglary
    • cl. 4.7—aggravated burglary

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

Reference

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.

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
  • Burglary
  • Aggravated burglary

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

Updated