Victoria Legal Aid

Theft and property damage

Information about theft and property damage offences, and possible penalties.

Property offences can include recklessly damaging property belonging to another person, finding something and not trying to return it to the owner, buying something from someone that turns out to have been stolen, shoplifting, as well as more serious offences such as burglary or armed robbery.

Theft and property damage offences are serious. Get legal advice.

Property damage

It is a crime to purposely damage or destroy another person’s property without their permission.

‘Property’ is anything that can be ‘owned’ by a person, including living things, such as pets.

Property damage offences, also known as wilful or criminal damage offences, include:

  • arson (damage by fire)
  • graffiti (marking or writing on property)
  • tampering with a motor vehicle, such as tampering with a door lock
  • threats to damage or destroy property.


Theft is intentionally taking something from someone else that does not belong to you, and that you do not intend to give back.

Theft-related offences include:

  • obtaining by deception
  • burglary (entering someone else’s land or property intending to steal something, damaging property or assaulting someone)
  • robbery/armed robbery
  • going somewhere equipped to steal
  • handling stolen goods
  • receiving stolen goods.

Joyriding (stealing a car to drive around in) is theft, even if you intend to return the car. Stealing from a shop (shoplifting) is also theft.

You can also be charged with theft if you happen to find something that is not yours and you keep it without trying to find the owner.

What the prosecution has to prove

If you are charged with theft, the prosecution (usually the police) will have to prove that you:

  • acted dishonestly when taking the property
  • did not own the property
  • were not planning to return it to the owner.

Your options at court

You have three options at court:

  • admit to the charges and ask for diversion – the diversion program means your case is treated differently. It is normally for less serious cases. You must agree to certain conditions. You do not get a criminal record.
  • plead guilty
  • plead not guilty.

Can I adjourn the hearing?

You can ask the magistrate for an adjournment if you want to:

  • go in the diversion program
  • get a private lawyer.

Adjournments are hard to get for any other reason. The magistrate may say no. See Going to court for a criminal charge for more information about what to do at court.

Penalties and compensation orders

Theft and property damage offences carry penalties of imprisonment, fines or both. You may receive a penalty that you serve in the community, such as an an adjourned undertaking or community correction order..

Charges are usually heard in the Magistrates’ Court, unless the value of goods/property is more than $100,000 or there are other, more serious charges.

If a court finds you guilty, it can make an order for you to return stolen possessions or pay for the property that was sold, lost or damaged (this is known as ‘restitution’).

On-the-spot fines for shoplifting

Police have the option to issue an on-the-spot fine if they believe you have committed a shoplifting offence and:

  • the value of the stolen goods is less than $600
  • it is your first shoplifting offence and a ‘one-off’ offence
  • you have made restitution, if it is required by the shop-owner
  • the offence did not occur at your workplace.

The fine for these offences is two penalty units. Payment of the fine will not be seen as admission of guilt and no conviction will be recorded.

If you do not pay the fine or take other action by the due date it may end up costing you more money. See Options for dealing with fines.

Other support

Find out how you can get other support for criminal offences.

Disclaimer: The material in this print-out relates to the law as it applies in the state of Victoria. It is intended as a general guide only. Readers should not act on the basis of any material in this print-out without getting legal advice about their own particular situations. Victoria Legal Aid disclaims any liability howsoever caused to any person in respect of any action taken in reliance on the contents of the publication.

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Reviewed 11 April 2022

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