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Home Resources & Technical Articles Criminal Offence Topics (A to Z) Stealing Offences Stealing and Theft Offences in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT)

Stealing and Theft Offences in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT)

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Australian National Character Check (ANCC) makes every effort to provide updated and accurate information to its customers. However due to the continuously changing nature of legislations for the Commonwealth and various States and Territories, it is inevitable that some information may not be up to date. The information on the website is general information only. The contents on the website do not constitute legal or professional advice and should not be relied upon as a substitute for legal or professional advice. While we endeavour to keep the information up to date and correct, we make no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, about the completeness, suitability, accuracy or availability with respect to the information.

The offence of stealing includes any of the behaviours or misdemeanours that is punishable and stipulated under the Criminal Code 2002 (ACT).

The offences of stealing can take various forms under the law but are dealt with separately following the specified sections under the Criminal Code.

If the court finds you guilty of the offence, stealing is a criminal offence and will show up on a Nationally Coordinated Criminal History Check.

What is a stealing offence?

The ACT law defines a stealing offence as the attempt, behaviour, intention or the act of dishonestly taking another's property with the intent to;

  • Deprive the owner of the property,
  • Sell/dispose of the property without the consent of the owner,
  • Use or move the property without the owner of the property
  • Convert or attempts to convert a property belonging to another person that they held in trust

Who is the owner of the property?

The property belongs to anyone having;

  • Possession or control of the item, or
  • Having proprietary right or interest in it (asides equitable interest arising only from a transfer agreement or from a constructive trust)

Related Offences that are considered as stealing offences under the law

These offences are all considered under the Act as stealing associated crimes;

For example, if you dishonestly take another's property to deprive them permanently, you are guilty of theft. If you illegally obtain and, in the process, hurt or attempt to hurt somebody, you are guilty of robbery. If you commit theft by trespassing on the property, you will commit burglary.

All of these offences are indictable offences and are dealt with in a Supreme Court.

What is not considered stealing under the law?

Not all instances of a person moving an item/property can qualify as a stealing offence. It can hardly be eligible as stealing if the;

  1. Item is moved for temporal use (without the owner's consent) unless the taker plans to use the item as theirs.
  2. If the person takes such an item by mistake (and proves it), it is not considered a stealing offence. An example can be driving another person's car in a groggy/drunken state.
  3. If the person believed they were legally justified to the property at the time, it is not considered stealing. It is still not a stealing offence if their belief was wrong, but they did not know at the time.

Penalties for the Offence of Theft

The court will find a person guilty of theft if they intended to, or permanently deprive the lawful owners of their property. It is also an offence of theft if the person dishonestly appropriates property belonging to someone else.

The law issues maximum penalties of;

  • $1000 penalty units
  • Ten years imprisonment, or,
  • Both

Minor Theft

Section 321 of the Act describes minor theft as less serious than theft, reflected in the fact that it is a summary offence dealt with by a magistrate alone. The penalty for minor theft is;

  • 50 penalty units (i.e. $7,500),
  • Six months imprisonment or
  • both.

Offences of receiving a stolen property

The court will convict you of a stealing offence under Section 313 if you received (knowingly);;

  • Proceeds from a stolen item/property,
  • Purchased a stolen property
  • Used The stolen property

The Criminal Act prescribes a maximum penalty of

  • 1000 penalty units, or
  • Imprisonment for ten years,
  • or Both.

However, if the accused retains the stolen property, they cannot be convicted of both the offences in the same charge under the law.

Attempted theft

If a person goes to a place where they intend to commit the theft offence with a material or equipment of intent to use it for the violation, Section 315 of the Act outlines that they are guilty of a theft attempt.

The Criminal Acts prescribes penalties of;

  • 300 penalty units,
  • Imprisonment for three years or,
  • Both.

Attempting theft with an offensive weapon

If the accused or offender goes to the place with an offensive weapon or other firearms, the court will convict them of this offence. The prosecutor has to prove that the accused intended the weapon as an accessory for the theft.

The Criminal Code prescribes penalties of;

  • 500 penalty units,
  • Imprisonment for five years or,
  • Both.

Theft involving a motor vehicle

The court under Section 318 of the Act will convict you of theft or attempted theft of a vehicle if a person;

  • Fraudulently takes a motor vehicle belonging to someone else;


  • Does not have consent to take the car from a person to whom it belongs.

The person dishonestly operates/control in or on a motor vehicle belonging to someone else; and,

The vehicle was dishonestly taken by the accused without the consent of a person to whom it belongs.

For this offence, the law stipulates penalties of;

  • 500 penalty units,
  • Imprisonment for five years or,
  • Both.

If you are dishonestly taking Territory property

A person is guilty of committing such "stealing offence' under the law if they;

  • At any point, dishonestly take one or more items of property belonging to someone else without their consent
  • The property or item cost more than $500 to replace or repair after it was taken from, or,

The taking of such property caused severe disruption of activities of the business or its operations in the State.

Part 3.2 of the Criminal Code stipulates penalties of;

  • 200 penalty units,
  • Two years imprisonment term, or,
  • Both

If you are dishonestly retaining Territory property

A person will be guilty of this offence if they attempt to or retain an item they converted from the owner. It follows that they must;

  • Commit such offence within the Territory
  • Retain all the items they took
  • The value of the retains item was over $500
  • The absence of the "taken" item caused severe disruption to their activities

The court issues maximum penalties of;

  • 50 penalty units,
  • Imprisonment for six months or,
  • Both.

Offences of Removing Public exhibitions or articles

It is an offence in the criminal code to; unlawfully remove/replace an article in a public space.

The law stipulates a maximum penalty of;

  • 100 penalty units,
  • 1-year imprisonment term, or
  • Both

Offences of non-payment for goods

A person will be guilty of a stealing offence if they dishonestly make off from the point of purchase without making payments. However, the court considers these factors;

  • If the person is aware they are required to make immediate payments for the goods and services received,
  • The person dishonestly or tricksily makes off,
  • Had no intent to pay the money or required exchange.

However, it will not apply if the supply of goods and services is contrary to the law.

The maximum penalty under Section 322A is;

  • 200 penalty units,
  • Imprisonment for two years or
  • both.

The offence is minor if the amount owed is $2000 or less. Section 323 of the Act stipulates maximum penalties for this offence as;

  • 50 penalty units
  • Six months imprisonment term
  • Both

Unlawful possession of a stolen property

Stolen property includes all properties that are capable of being stolen.

Under the law, the crime is committed if the person;

  • Has property in the person’s possession; or
  • Has property in someone else’s possession; or
  • Has property in or on any premises. It doesn't whether/not the;
  • Beliefs belong to is occupied by the person or
  • The property is there for the person's use); or,
  • Gives possession of the property to someone who is not lawfully entitled to possession of it;

Where the property is reasonably suspected of being stolen property or otherwise unlawfully obtained property

For such offences, Section 324 of the Criminal Code stipulates penalties of;

  • 50 penalty units,
  • Imprisonment for six months or
  • Both.

What is a “dishonest means”?

The law defines a "dishonest means" concerning obtaining property or item as;

  • Illicit according to the standards of ordinary people; and,
  • Known by the defendant to be illegal according to the standards of ordinary people

Defences for stealing from a Person

Depending on the seriousness of the offence itself, stealing offences are generally handled as indictable offences in the Commonwealth and ACT. And it may not be eligible for an intervention or a Good Behaviour Order.

If you get a conviction for such offences, it will be recorded in your Nationally Coordinated Criminal History Check.

Therefore, the best way to avoid a conviction if you are charged with the offence is to get an experienced lawyer (in Criminal Law).

A lawyer can explore any of the following defences for a stealing offence;

  • ✔ Argue that you stole out of self-defence,

Especially in the case of firearm theft or vehicle stealing offences

  • ✔ Argue that you stole under duress

In the case of stress, psychological pressure, drunkenness, and so on

  • ✔ Stole out of Necessity

For example, in the case of a critical pregnant woman, an emergency prevents a future catastrophe.

  • ✔ Argue that you (believed) that you had the claim of right to the property.
the claim of right to the property.

How can I obtain my criminal record?

You can obtain a Nationally Coordinated Criminal History Check online via the Australian National Character Check (ANCC®) website. The application and informed consent form can be completed online. The results will be sent to you via email.

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