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  • Home Resources & Technical Articles Criminal Offence Topics (A to Z) Break and Enter Offences Unlawful Entry and Property Offences in the Northern Territory

    Unlawful Entry and Property Offences in the Northern Territory

    The different offences in the Northern Territory (NT) legislation fall under two broad categories: crimes against property and crimes against persons. Crimes against property cover the areas of unlawful entry, trespass, robbery and the like, while crimes against persons refer to offences such as rape, murder, assault offences in the NT and so on.

    Even though crimes against persons appear to attract more severe penalties, crimes against property could also come with stiff punishments under some circumstances. These punishments could range from fines up to imprisonment sentences.

    In the NT, primarily, the Criminal Code Act 1983 (NT) and the Summary Offences Act 1923 (NT) governs the actions referred to as the crimes against property and its penalties.

    This write-up will discuss the different aspects of property offences, especially the crime of unlawful entry. Specifically, this includes what the law says, the penalties and possible defences.

    If an individual is convicted in a Northern Territory (NT) court for an Unlawful Entry or Property offence, the offence will show up as a disclosable court outcome (DCO) on a Nationally Coordinated Criminal History Check in the NT.

    Unlawful Entry

    Section 213 of the Criminal Code Act 1983 (NT) states that any person who enters a building without authorisation to commit a crime is guilty of unlawful entry. The criminal intention could be to steal or cause property damage.

    However, for the court to find a person guilty, the prosecution will need to prove that the accused had the intention to commit a crime when they illegally entered into the building and not after they were in the building. In most proceedings, simply proving that the accused entered the building unlawfully could serve as a presumption that they had a criminal intention.

    Upon proving that a person is guilty of unlawful entry, the offender will receive the punishments that come with the crime committed, as seen in Section 213 of the Criminal Code Act 1983 (NT). The severity of the penalties for unlawful entry depends on several factors. These factors include:


    #1. The Intended Crime and the Building Where the Crime Took Place

    Under Section 213 of the Criminal Code Act 1983 (NT), any individual who unlawfully enters a building with the intent to commit a summary offence may face 1 years imprisonment. But, if the building is a dwelling house, they are liable to 2 years imprisonment.

    Also, this section states that unlawfully entering a building to commit an indictable offence is punishable by a maximum of 3 years imprisonment.

    However, unlawfully entering into a dwelling house to commit an indictable offence in the NT and attracts 5 years imprisonment. And, in a situation where there are occupants in the dwelling house, the penalty is 7 years imprisonment.


    #2. Being in Possession of an Ammunition

    Based on Section 213(6) of the Criminal Code Act 1983 (NT), entering a building unlawfully to commit a crime while possessing ammunition carries a penalty of 20 years imprisonment. If the building is a dwellinghouse, the penalty becomes life imprisonment.


    #3. The Time of the Day they Committed the Offence and the Building They Entered

    Section 213 of the Criminal Code Act 1983 (NT) states that committing any of the offences stated in the entire section at night could attract double of the punishment prescribed for that offence.

    Trespass

    Trespassing has to do with entering a place without permission from the appropriate authority. Places where a person can trespass include buildings, yards, gardens, dwelling houses and so on.

    According to Section 5 of the Trespass Act 1987 (NT), a trespassing offence in the NT carries the maximum sentence of 20 penalty units or six months imprisonment.

    But before the court gives these punishments, the prosecution must convince the court that the defendant deliberately committed the crime without any justification.

    Criminal Damage

    Section 241(1) of the Criminal Code Act 1983 (NT) makes it an offence for any individual to damage a property belonging to another person. Damaging the property could mean destroying or defacing a property such as a building or a house. Criminal damage of property attracts the maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment.

    Nonetheless, the court cannot convict a person for criminal damage without the prosecution convincing the court of the presence of some elements.

    The prosecution will need to show that:

    • The accused intentionally damaged the property of someone else without any justification.
    • The defendants acted recklessly to cause damage to someone else's property.

    In addition, Section 241 of the Criminal Code Act 1983 (NT) states that threatening to damage another person's property is an offence that is punishable by 7 years imprisonment.

    Arson

    Based on Section 243 of the Criminal Code Act 1983 (NT), it is an offence to destroy a building or conveyance through fire or explosives. A building here refers to any structure for residential purposes, while conveyance has to do with the common means of transportation. Consequently, this also includes boats, trains, cars or aircraft.

    Committing the crime of arson comes with the maximum penalty of life imprisonment, while an attempt to commit arson carries a maximum of 14 years imprisonment. However, for a person to be found guilty of an arson offence in the NT, they must have intentionally committed the crime. Also, the court will need to establish that they acted recklessly.

    Furthermore, Section 243 of the Criminal Code Act 1983 (NT) states that threatening to commit arson is an offence punishable by a maximum of 7 years imprisonment.

    Unlawful Use of Vessel, Motor Vehicle, Caravan or Trailer

    Section 218 of the Criminal Code Act 1983 (NT) makes it an offence for a person to use a vehicle, boat, trailer or any other similar means of transportation without the owner's permission. An offender, in this section, could face the punishment of 2 years imprisonment. But under some conditions, they could be liable to 7 years imprisonment.

    These conditions include if:

    • At the moment of committing the offence, the offender injured someone or put the lives of others at risk.
    • The unlawfully used means of transportation has a value exceeding $20,000.
    • The offender damaged the means of transportation, and the cost of repairs is $1000 or more.
    • The culprit used the vehicle, caravan, boat, e.t.c. to commit another crime.
    • As a result of the offender unlawfully using the caravan, boat, vehicle, e.t.c, it went missing for 48 hours or longer.

    Stealing

    In the Northern Territory legislation, the term stealing is broad. According to Section 209 of the Criminal Code Act 1983 (NT), stealing refers to assuming ownership of a property that lawfully belongs to someone else without authorisation.

    The following situations can establish that a person has committed the crime of a stealing offence in the NT;

    • The individual intends to keep the property that lawfully belongs to another person permanently.
    • A person innocently came into the possession of a property belonging to someone else but refused to return it to the rightful owner or the appropriate authorities.
    • A person took property without the intention of paying for it, even when they could at the time they took it.

    The offence of stealing attracts the maximum penalty of 7 years imprisonment, while if the goods stolen is worth about $100,000 or more, the punishment is 14 years imprisonment. These penalties are present in Section 210 of the Criminal Code Act 1983 (NT).

    Robbery

    Based on Section 211 of the Criminal Code Act 1983 (NT), a robbery offence in the NT occurs when an individual steals from another person by using or threatening to use violence. Using or threatening to use violence could be to prevent or overcome any form of resistance.

    Any individual who commits the crime of robbery is liable for up to 14 years imprisonment. However, a person may face life imprisonment for the crime of robbery if:

    • The offender used a firearm or any dangerous weapon in the process of committing the crime of robbery.
    • The offender was in the company of other people.
    • The culprit caused harm to other people during or after they committed the crime.

    Criminal Deception

    Section 227 of the Criminal Code Act 1983 (NT) makes it a crime for an individual to use deception in obtaining property or benefit belonging to another person. An example of criminal deception is insurance fraud.

    Anybody guilty of criminal deception or fraud offences in the NT is liable to 7 years imprisonment unless the value of the property obtained is worth $100,000 or more; in such case, the penalty is 14 years imprisonment.

    Receiving Criminally Obtained Property

    Based on Section 229 of the Criminal Code Act 1983 (NT), it is an offence for any individual to receive or possess any property obtained through criminal means. Anyone who the court finds guilty of this offence may face a maximum of 7 years imprisonment or 14 years imprisonment depending on if the property's value is at or exceeds $100,000.

    For the court to pronounce a person guilty, the prosecution must prove that the defendant knew about the property before receiving it. And, it was not after they gained possession of the property that they knew.

    Furthermore, according to Section 229(5) of the Criminal Code Act 1983 (NT), a person could still be found guilty of a crime even when they no longer possess the criminally obtained property. If there is proof that they had received the property, the court may still find them guilty.

    Possession of Stolen Goods

    According to Section 61 of the Criminal Code Act 1983 (NT), it is an offence for a person to have stolen goods in their possession. Having stolen goods means the stolen property is present in a person's premises.

    Here, premises refers to vehicles, houses, aircraft, hovercraft e.t.c. Upon finding a person in possession of stolen goods, the prosecution can assume that they stole the item. The Offense of possessing stolen goods carries a maximum of $2000 fine or 12 months imprisonment.

    It is important to note that the prosecution does not need to prove that the defendant knew the goods were stolen. Merely establishing suspicion is sufficient to present a strong case before the court.

    In such a situation, the burden of proof rests on the defendant. As such, to prove their innocence, the accused might need to explain how they came to own the stolen goods.

    Possessing Instruments for Housebreaking

    Section 57(1)(e) of the Summary Offences Act 1923 (NT) makes it an offence for any individual to possess housebreaking instruments unjustifiably. The housebreaking instrument could be a picklock, jack bit, key, crow and so on.

    This offence carries a maximum of $1000 fine and/or six months imprisonment. Nonetheless, they may face 12 months imprisonment if they have been convicted in the past for a similar offence.

    Additionally, Section 215 of the Criminal Code Act 1983 (NT) states that possessing a firearm to break into a building is a crime punishable by 7 years imprisonment.

    Possible Defences to the Crimes Against Property

    The nature of the crime can determine the defences that are available for a defendant to use in countering an accusation laid against them. While some of these defences could lead to an acquittal, others might only result in the court giving less severe punishments.

    The common defences to property crimes are:


    #1. Duress/Coercion

    A defendant can claim that they were under duress when they committed the offence. Raising this defence means that the accused did not act out of their own free will but committed the crime as a response to a threat or physical force.

    A defendant can claim duress when faced with charges regarding property crimes such as unlawful entry, arson and criminal damage.


    #2. Necessity

    The defence of necessity has to do with the defendant showing the court that they committed the crime to prevent a grave danger that could put them and others at risk. Raising this defence might require the accused to show that their response to the danger perceived was reasonable and that there was no alternative.


    #3. Justification

    The defence of justification is suitable if the defendant can prove that their actions are within what is permissible by the law. For instance, a police officer might need to go into the property belonging to someone else to carry out their duties.


    #4. Renunciation

    An accused can assert that they withdrew from participating in a particular criminal activity and did all in their power to prevent the crime.


    #5. Mistake of Fact

    Mistake of fact refers to a situation where the accused committed the crime unintentionally as a result of not getting their facts right. For instance, a person accused of unlawfully using a vehicle might have thought the vehicle owner permitted them.

    Bottom Line

    Being able to handle legal accusations regarding property crimes requires a level of expertise. For this reason, it is advisable to seek legal assistance when faced with such charges as this can determine the result of the court case. With the right legal aid, a person might avoid stiff penalties such as imprisonment.

    Will an Unlawful Entry or Property Offence in the Northern Territory (NT) show up on a Nationally Coordinated Criminal History Check?

    If an individual is found guilty of an Unlawful Entry or Property Offence in the Northern Territory (NT) , the offence will show up as a disclosable court outcome (DCO) on the results of their criminal background check.

    Individuals can obtain a criminal history check online via the Australian National Character Check - ANCC® website.

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