Burglary, robbery, and various property and theft-related offences are frequently prosecuted in the courts, particularly in the Magistrates’ Court. These kinds of offenses range from low-level thefts such as shop thefts to more serious cases such as aggravated burglary and aggravated home invasion. This article provides a comprehensive guide to these offences and the associated penalties upon conviction.

1. Theft

The Crimes Act 1958 defines theft as a dishonest appropriation of property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it. Essentially, a person is guilty of theft if they obtain another’s property using dishonesty with the intent of permanently depriving the owner.  However, each case must be examined according to its own facts. Defences may exist if the police cannot prove dishonest intent or the intention to permanently deprive the owner. For example, if the accused believed the property belonged to them or had no intention of permanently depriving the owner of the property. 

There are also exceptions to theft, including when a person has a lawful right to assert a lien over the property. A lien can be exercised when a person has a right to keep possession of property belonging to another until a debt owed to that person has been discharged. A common example used in law school is a mechanic refusing to hand over a person’s vehicle until that person has paid for the mechanic’s services. Low-level thefts, typically involving property valued at less than $100,000.00, are usually prosecuted in the Magistrates’ Court.

The most common forms of theft offences involve obtaining property or a financial advantage through deception. These offences are commonly referred to as fraud. We regularly see these forms of offences occurring in the context of businesses, where the accused has worked in a financial role and is alleged to have used that role to steal funds belonging to the company using deceptive means, such as rendering false invoices.

2. Robbery

Robbery occurs when the accused steals property and, either just before or during the act, uses force on someone or instills fear in them, with the intention of immediately taking the property. For example, intimidating a person to hand over cash or a mobile phone. The maximum penalty for basic robbery is 15 years imprisonment. Robbery is considered a serious offence by the courts, by virtue of the fact that it is a hybrid offense that is both violent and dishonest.

When armed during the robbery, the offence becomes armed robbery, carrying a maximum penalty of 25 years imprisonment. An example is a convenience store ‘hold up’ where a weapon is used to force the cashier to hand over cash.

3. Burglary

Burglary is an offence that encompasses scenarios in which a person is accused of unlawfully entering a building or a part of it, intending to steal items within or commit an offence such as assault or damage to the building. A person becomes a trespasser by entering a building or its part without the owner’s permission. This also applies if the accused initially entered with permission but remained after the permission was revoked. The maximum sentence for burglary is five years imprisonment. The basis for the relatively low maximum sentence is that burglary applies to a situation where the building was not occupied. For example, the owners were out, or the building was unoccupied when it was broken into.

However, if people are in the property at the time of the alleged entry, the burglary is elevated to aggravated burglary, carrying a maximum penalty of 25 years imprisonment. Aggravated burglary is established when the accused committed the burglary knowing or recklessly disregarding the presence of individuals. This often occurs when a burglar enters a residence at night, being reckless about occupancy and the presence of the occupier. However, a defence to aggravated burglary may exist if the accused genuinely and reasonably believed the premises were unoccupied. Aggravated burglary can also occur if the burglary was committed while armed with a firearm, imitation firearm, offensive weapon, explosive, or imitation explosive, regardless of whether anyone was present. For instance, if a neighbour hears noises from a property knowing the occupants are on vacation, calls the police, and they find an armed person inside, it constitutes aggravated burglary.

4. Aggravated Home Invasion

Aggravated home invasion represents a more severe form of theft-related offence compared to aggravated burglary, as it involves the use of violence or property damage within a home in the presence of two or more individuals. This offence pertains to a burglary where the accused, along with two or more accomplices, enters a home with knowledge or recklessness regarding the presence of individuals, and the burglary includes assault or property damage. In recent years, there has been a significant increase in aggravated home invasions, and concerningly, many offenders are relatively young, often facing prosecution in the Children’s Court. In response, Parliament amended the Sentencing Act 1991, mandating that courts impose a non-parole period of 3 years imprisonment for aggravated home invasion unless there are special reasons. These reasons may include mental illness, intellectual disability, acquired brain injury, autism, or situations where the accused has assisted law enforcement in investigating or prosecuting an offence.

Theft Offences: How Galbally Parker Lawyers can Assist

The law surrounding theft and property offenses can be complex, with penalties ranging from fines to a sentence of imprisonment. However, there are nuanced defences available. Therefore, it is essential to consult an experienced criminal lawyer regarding your case to obtain the most accurate and reliable advice.

Our team of solicitors specialise in criminal law with wide-reaching experience in cases involving Theft, Burglary, and Robbery. We offer legal guidance and representation to clients dealing with such cases in Melbourne and throughout Victoria, having successfully defended clients across a spectrum of charges, from simple theft cases to burglaries and aggravated burglaries. If you are facing charges related to these offences, obtaining timely legal advice and support is essential.