Stealing (Theft) Overview

Stealing basically involves taking a persons property, without consent, without a claim of right over the property, and with the intention of permanently depriving the person of the use of their property.

It can occur in so many different ways that it is hard to list. It includes shoplifting and it can include finding property (such as money or a watch or wallet) in the street and deciding to keep it – referred to as stealing by finding – whereby the acquisition of the property might not have been unlawful at the time.

Stealing potentially carries a sentence of imprisonment and is treated seriously by the courts. The value of the property may have some part to play in the sentencing process, as will the circumstances in which the offence is alleged to have occurred – such as the degree of planning used in committing the offence or whether there was a relationship of trust between the owner and the person who took the property.

Sometimes however a person has a claim of right of the property that they took. They might honestly hold a belief that they were entitled to take possession of the property – and therefore might not be guilty of any offence.

It is possible to steal your own property! For example, if you took your car for repairs but failed to pay the account and the mechanic refused to hand over your car until payment was made, you could be charged with stealing if you used a spare key to take your car because the mechanic had special ownership over your property.

Stealing is an offence of dishonesty and this is reflected in the punishments imposed by Courts.

What is Stealing?

Stealing is the taking and carrying away (asportation) of property, belonging to another, without consent or claim of right, with an intention to permanently deprive the true owner of the goods.

What is a Claim of Right?

A claim of right is an honestly held belief that a person is legally entitled to the property and not some moral entitlement. A person with such a claim of right over property has a defence to an allegation of stealing.

What is Stealing From The Person?

This offence is similar to robbery and found within the same section of the Crimes Act – however it is not necessary to prove the same elements. It is more serious than a mere ‘stealing’ as it involves taking property from the person or from the presence of the person, but might not involve putting the person in fear. An example of this would be a bag snatch or pickpocket type offences.

This type of offence may be dealt with in the Local Court if no election is made for the matter to be dealt with in the District Court.

What is Larceny (Stealing) by Finding?

Stealing by Finding occurs when a person finds property and believes that the true owner can be located upon reasonable inquiry but decides to keep or appropriate the property for themselves. A person finding property must consider whether the owner of goods could be found. For example, finding a $10 note on the side of the road is an entirely different situation to finding a wallet with identification in it.

What is Larceny As a Bailee?

Larceny as a Bailee occurs where there is bailment of property to a person – such as a hire or lease of goods agreement, or a loan of property, and the ‘bailee’ decides to keep the goods or dispose of them – thus treating the goods as though they were or are the true owner.