Theft Charges and Defences in Victoria
If you are accused of stealing, you might be able to raise several defences to the charge
In Victoria, the basic crime of theft is defined in section 72 of the Crimes Act: “A person steals if he dishonestly appropriates property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it.” As a general rule, “property” does not include land.
Appropriating property includes acting as the owner of the property. The taking can be dishonest even if you later offer to pay for the property.
Receiving property by mistake is a theft if you realize the mistake and fail to return the property. If you are given property to hold in trust and convert it to your own purposes or fail to return it when you asked to do so, you have committed a theft.
The crime of theft in Victoria is punishable by a term of imprisonment of up to 10 years.
Defences to the charge
The key to defending a theft charge often lies in the word “dishonestly.” It is not dishonest to take someone’s property if:
- You honestly believe you have a legal right to the property.
- You are acting on behalf of another person and you honestly believe that person has a legal right to the property.
- You honestly believe the person in possession of the property would consent to your taking it.
- You take the property with the honest belief that there is no reasonable way to locate its owner.
- You paid for the property and acquired it in good faith from a person you believed had the right to transfer ownership to you.
You also have a defence to a theft charge if you did not intend to deprive the owner or of the property permanently. Borrowing property with the intent to return it is not usually a theft. Taking a vehicle without consent, however, is regarded as a theft even if you intended to return it.
Additional defenses include:
- False accusation (the property was never taken and you are being accused of a crime that never occurred).
- Mistaken identity (the property was taken but somebody else took it).
Other crimes in Victoria that involve misappropriating another person’s property include:
You should talk to a lawyer if you are accused of theft or any other crime that involves stealing or misappropriating property.