Stealing is a common offence in Queensland, charged for things as simple as shoplifting to more serious examples like stealing from an employer. The offence carries a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment, but can be higher depending on the circumstances.
What do the prosecution have to prove?
For the charge to be made out, the prosecution must prove the following ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’:
- The property subject to the charge is a thing capable of being stolen (meaning it must be moveable or capable of being made moveable);
- The property or thing was taken without the consent of the owner or was fraudulently converted to the person’s own use or the use of any other person.
- The property was taken or converted with an intention to permanently deprive the owner or used it in a way that it could not be returned to the owner in its original condition;
Importantly, the offence is not made out unless the person taking or converting the property actually moves it or actually deals with it by doing some physical act.
Definition of Property
The definition of property is found under section 1 of the Criminal Code. It includes the following:
- every thing animate or inanimate that is capable of being the subject of ownership;
- electrical or other energy, gas and water;
- a plant;
- certain animals;
- a thing produced by an animal mentioned above;
- any other property real or personal, legal or equitable, including things in action and other intangible property.
It can still be an offence to keep property you find on the street or elsewhere. This is often referred to as ‘stealing by finding.’ The concept of ‘finders keepers’ can still apply, but only where the finder can be reasonably satisfied that the property is abandoned.
In order to avoid committing an offence of stealing, a finder should make efforts to identify the owner, such as by handing it in to police or the store in which the property is located. Otherwise, it is arguable that the finder has taken the property fraudulently and therefore committed an offence of stealing.
What are the usual penalties?
The maximum penalty for stealing in Queensland is five years imprisonment.
The maximum penalty increases if a circumstance of aggravation applies. This includes the following:
|Circumstance of aggravation||Maximum Penalty|
|Stealing a will||14 years imprisonment|
|Stealing of a vehicle||14 years imprisonment|
|Stealing firearm for use in another indictable offence||14 years imprisonment|
|Stealing from the person||10 years imprisonment|
|Stealing by persons in the public service||10 years imprisonment|
|Stealing by clerks and servants||10 years imprisonment|
|Stealing by directors or officers of companies||10 years imprisonment|
|Stealing by agents||10 years imprisonment|
|Stealing where the value of the property is great than $5,000||10 years imprisonment|
|Stealing by tenants or lodgers||10 years imprisonment|
|Stealing by looting||10 years imprisonment|
|Stealing firearm or ammunition||10 years imprisonment|
Typically, the penalties open to the Court are broad and vary depending on the facts, any related prior entries on a defendant’s criminal history and the circumstances of the offending including whether the property or thing was returned to the owner.
Commonly, the range of penalties include a good behaviour bond, a fine, a community-based order which includes community service or probation or in more serious matters (usually where a defendant has prior related entries on a criminal history or where a circumstance of aggravation exists) a term of imprisonment.
If you have been charged with stealing, it is strongly recommended that you obtain legal advice.
What negotiations can be made?
In certain cases, prosecution may have difficulty in proving or identifying that a defendant was the person who committed the stealing offence. In this situation, it may be possible to persuade the prosecution that there is insufficient evidence to proceed with the charge.
In other circumstances, a defendant may have a defence to a charge of stealing. Possible defences include having the consent of the owner or mistakenly believing you had the consent of the owner or if the property or thing was abandoned by the owner.
If the person charged is able to return the property or compensate the owner for stolen items, the prosecution may agree to refer the matter for restorative justice conferencing rather than continuing with the charge.
It is strongly recommended that you seek legal advice if charged with a stealing offence.
What Courts can the offence be heard in?
The offence of stealing is usually heard summarily, in the Magistrates Court. However, where the value of property or thing is greater than $30,000 and the charge is contested by a defendant, the charge may proceed on indictment in the District or Supreme Courts in certain situations.