Victoria Legal Aid

Theft and property damage

Learn about theft and property damage offences, what happens at court if you are charged, and possible penalties.

This page provides information about:

  • theft and property damage offences
  • if you go to court, what the prosecution must prove
  • other information about going to court
  • possible penalties if found guilty.

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

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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 include:

  • criminal damage
  • wilful damage (where the cost of the damage is under $5000)
  • arson (damage by fire)
  • graffiti (marking or writing on property)
  • tampering with a motor vehicle, such as damaging a car door lock
  • threats to damage or destroy property.

What the prosecution has to prove if you are charged with property damage

If you are charged with criminal damage, the prosecution must prove that:

  • you destroyed or damaged the property
  • you intended to damage the property
  • the property belonged to someone else
  • you didn’t have a lawful reason to damage it.

It is not an offence to accidently damaged another person’s property or to touch it without causing any damage.


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:

  • burglary or home invasion (entering someone else’s land or property intending to steal something, damage property or assault someone)
  • robbery or armed robbery
  • carjacking
  • going somewhere with the intent to steal
  • obtaining by deception
  • handling or receiving stolen goods.
  • joyriding (stealing a car to drive around in) or being in a car you know is stolen, even if you intend to return the car
  • stealing from a shop (shoplifting)
  • finding and keeping something that is not yours, 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:

  • took or interfered with the property without permission
  • acted dishonestly when taking the property
  • did not own the property
  • were not planning to return the property to the owner.

More about going to court

Your options at court

You have three options at court:

  • admit to the charges and ask for diversion. Entering the diversion program is a way to deal with your matter out of the court system and gives you a chance to avoid a criminal record. It is normally for less serious cases, and you must agree to certain conditions.
  • plead guilty
  • plead not guilty.

Can I adjourn the hearing?

You can ask the court co-ordinator or magistrate for an adjournment. if you have a good reason.

This includes if you want to:

  • go into the diversion program
  • plead not guilty
  • get legal advice from Victoria Legal Aid or a private lawyer.

Adjournments are hard to get if you have adjourned your case before.

Try speaking to your lawyer before your hearing date.

Visit Going to court for a criminal charge for more information about what to do at court.

What happens if you are found guilty of theft or property damage

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 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 either return the stolen property, or pay for the property that was sold, lost or damaged. This is known as ‘restitution’.

If you have been charged with car theft, the court must both:

  • cancel your licence
  • disqualify you from driving for a time.

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.

We help Victorians with their legal problems and represent those who need it most. Find legal answers, chat with us online, or call us. You can speak to us in English or ask for an interpreter. You can also find more legal information at

Reviewed 23 April 2024

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