Sentencing Trends for Theft in the Higher Courts of Victoria 2009-10 to 2013-14

Sentencing Snapshot 168
Date of Publication: 
14 May 2015

Sentencing Snapshot no. 168 describes sentencing outcomes for the offence of theft in the County and Supreme Courts of Victoria between 2009–10 and 2013–14.

The most recent Sentencing Snapshot for this offence is Snapshot no. 202.

You can also find statistics for this offence on SACStat.

Authored and published by the Sentencing Advisory Council
© Copyright State of Victoria, Sentencing Advisory Council, 2015

Introduction

This Sentencing Snapshot describes sentencing outcomes[1] for the offence of theft in the County and Supreme Courts of Victoria between 2009–10 and 2013–14.[2] Adjustments made by the Court of Appeal to sentence or conviction as at June 2014 have been incorporated into the data in this Snapshot.

Detailed data on theft and other offences are available on SACStat – Higher Courts.

A person who dishonestly appropriates any property belonging to another person with the intention of permanently depriving that person of the property is guilty of theft.

Theft is an indictable offence that carries a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment[3] and/or a fine of 1,200 penalty units.[4] Indictable offences are more serious offences triable before a judge and jury in the County or Supreme Court. Theft can also be tried summarily by the Magistrates’ Court if the property involved meets certain criteria, the Magistrates’ Court considers it appropriate, and the defendant consents.

Theft was the principal offence[5] in 2.1% of cases sentenced in the higher courts between 2009–10 and 2013–14.

People sentenced

From 2009–10 to 2013–14, 197 people were sentenced in the higher courts for a principal offence of theft.

Figure 1 shows the number of people sentenced for the principal offence of theft by financial year. There were 40 people sentenced for this offence in 2013–14, up by 8 people from the previous year.  The number of people sentenced was highest in 2009–10 (48 people).

Figure 1: The number of people sentenced for theft by financial year, 2009–10 to 2013–14

Financial year Total
2009-10 48
2010-11 44
2011-12 33
2012-13 32
2013-14 40
Total 197

Sentence types and trends

Figure 2 shows the total number of people sentenced for theft and the number that received an immediate custodial sentence.  An immediate custodial sentence is one that involves at least some element of immediate (as opposed to wholly suspended) imprisonment or detention.[6] Over the five-year period, 69% of people were given an immediate custodial sentence.  This peaked at 78% (31 of 40) in 2013–14 after a low of 55% (24 of 44) in 2010–11.

Figure 2: The number of people sentenced for theft and the number who received an immediate custodial sentence, 2009–10 to 2013–14

Financial year Custodial Non-Custodial Total
2009-10 32 16 48
2010-11 24 20 44
2011-12 25 8 33
2012-13 23 9 32
2013-14 31 9 40
Total 135 62 197

Table 1 shows the number of people sentenced for theft from 2009–10 to 2013–14 by the types of sentences imposed.

Over the five-year period, around half of the people sentenced for theft received a period of imprisonment (56%, or 110 of 197 people), while 20% received a wholly suspended sentence of imprisonment and 11% received a partially suspended sentence of imprisonment.

The number and percentage of people receiving imprisonment for theft were lowest during 2010–11 (18 of 44 people or 41%). The number of people receiving imprisonment for theft was highest during 2013–14 (26 people), while the percentage was highest during 2012–13 (21 of 32 people or 66%).

The number and percentage of people given a wholly suspended sentence were lowest during 2011–12 (3 of 33 people or 9%) and highest during 2010–11 (13 of 44 people or 30%).

The number and percentage of people given a partially suspended sentence were lowest during 2012–13 (1 of 32 people or 3%) and highest during 2009–10 (8 of 48 people or 17%).

Table 1: The number and percentage of people sentenced for theft by sentence type, 2009–10 to 2013–14

Sentence type 2009–10 2010–11 2011–12 2012–13 2013–14 Total
Imprisonment 24 (50%) 18 (41%) 21 (64%) 21 (66%) 26 (65%) 110 (56%)
Wholly suspended sentence 12 (25%) 13 (30%) 3 (9%) 6 (19%) 5 (13%) 39 (20%)
Partially suspended sentence 8 (17%) 6 (14%) 3 (9%) 1 (3%) 4 (10%) 22 (11%)
Fine 4 (8%) 2 (5%) 3 (9%) 2 (6%) 0 (–) 11 (6%)
Community correction order 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (3%) 3 (8%) 4 (2%)
Community–based order 0 (–) 3 (7%) 1 (3%) 0 (–) 0 (–) 4 (2%)
Youth justice centre order 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (3%) 1 (3%) 0 (–) 2 (1%)
Adjourned undertaking without conviction 0 (–) 1 (2%) 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (<1%)
Intensive correction order 0 (–) 1 (2%) 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (<1%)
Non–custodial supervision order 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (3%) 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (<1%)
Mix (wholly suspended sentence and aggregate fine) 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (3%) 1 (<1%)
Mix (imprisonment and community correction order) 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (3%) 1 (<1%)
People sentenced 48 44 33 32 40 197

Age and gender of people sentenced

Data on the age and gender of people sentenced for theft are available on SACStat – Higher Courts.

Principal and total effective sentences

Two methods for describing sentence types and lengths are examined in this section. One relates to the principal sentence and examines sentences for the offence at a charge level. The other relates to the total effective sentence and examines sentences for the offence at a case level.

The principal sentence is the individual sentence imposed for the charge that is the principal offence.[7]

The total effective sentence in a case with a single charge is the principal sentence. The total effective sentence in a case with multiple charges is the sentence that results from the court ordering the individual sentences for each charge to be served concurrently (at the same time) or wholly or partially cumulatively (one after the other).

In many cases, the total effective sentence imposed on a person will be longer than the principal sentence. Principal sentences for theft must be considered in this broader context. The following sections analyse the use of imprisonment for the offence of theft from 2009–10 to 2013–14.

Principal sentence of imprisonment

A total of 111 people received a principal sentence of imprisonment for theft between 2009–10 and 2013–14.[8]

Figure 3 shows these people by the length of their imprisonment term. Imprisonment terms ranged from 1 month to 5 years, while the median length of imprisonment was 2 years (meaning that half of the imprisonment terms were shorter than 2 years and half were longer).

The most common range of imprisonment length imposed was 2 to less than 3 years (35 people).

Figure 3: The number of people sentenced to imprisonment for theft by length of imprisonment term, 2009–10 to 2013–14

Imprisonment length Number of people
Less than 1 year 17
1 to less than 2 years 30
2 to less than 3 years 35
3 to less than 4 years 20
4 to less than 5 years 8
5 to less than 6 years 1
People sentenced 111

As shown in Figure 4, the average length of imprisonment term imposed on people sentenced for theft ranged from 1 year and 8 months in 2012–13 to 2 years and 5 months in 2009–10.

Figure 4: The average length of imprisonment term imposed on people sentenced for theft, 2009–10 to 2013–14

Financial year Average length of imprisonment
2009-10 (n= 24) 2y, 5m
2010-11 (n= 18) 2y, 3m
2011-12 (n= 21) 1y, 11m
2012-13 (n= 21) 1y, 8m
2013-14 (n= 27) 1y, 11m

Other offences finalised at the same hearing

Often people prosecuted for theft face multiple charges, which are finalised at the same hearing.  This section looks at the range of offences for which offenders have been sentenced at the same time as being sentenced for the principal offence of theft.

Figure 5 shows the number of people sentenced for the principal offence of theft by the total number of offences for which sentences were set.  The number of sentenced offences per person ranged from 1 to 61, while the median was 3 offences.  There were 44 people (22.34%) sentenced for the single offence of theft.  The average number of offences per person sentenced for theft was 7.10.

Figure 5: The number of people sentenced for the principal offence of theft by the number of sentenced offences per person, 2009–10 to 2013–14

Number of offences Number of people
1 44
2 37
3 20
4 11
5 to 9 52
10 to 19 17
20 to 49 12
50+ 4
Total 197

While Figure 5 presents the number of sentenced offences for people sentenced for theft, Table 2 shows what the accompanying offences were.  It shows the number and percentage of people sentenced for the 10 most common offences.  The last column sets out the average number of offences sentenced per person.  For example, 15 of the total 197 people (7.6%) also received sentences for burglary.  On average, they were sentenced for 4.9 counts of burglary.

Table 2: The number and percentage of people sentenced for the principal offence of theft by the most common offences sentenced and the average number of those offences sentenced, 2009–10 to 2013–14

Offence No. of cases % of cases Average no. of
proven offences
per case
1. Theft 197 100.0 5.17
2. Burglary 15 7.6 4.93
3. Attempted theft 13 6.6 3.00
4. Obtaining property by deception 12 6.1 2.33
5. Obtaining financial advantage by deception 10 5.1 6.40
6. Intentionally destroy or damage property (criminal damage) 9 4.6 4.33
7. Handling stolen goods 8 4.1 1.25
8. Possess a drug of dependence 7 3.6 1.14
9. Armed robbery 6 3.0 1.67
10. Make false document to prejudice of other 5 2.5 2.00
People sentenced 197 100.0 7.10

Total effective sentence of imprisonment

There were 111 people given a total effective sentence of imprisonment.  Figure 6 shows the number of people sentenced to imprisonment for theft between 2009–10 and 2013–14 by length of total effective sentence.  The length of total effective sentences ranged from 1 month to 10 years and 6 months, while the median total effective length of imprisonment was 3 years (meaning that half of the total effective sentence lengths were below 3 years and half were above).

The most common range of total effective imprisonment length was 3 to less than 4 years (32 people).

Figure 6: The number of people sentenced to imprisonment for theft by length of total effective imprisonment term, 2009–10 to 2013–14

Total effective imprisonment length Number of people
Less than 1 year 12
1 to less than 2 years 12
2 to less than 3 years 26
3 to less than 4 years 32
4 to less than 5 years 16
5 to less than 6 years 4
6 to less than 7 years 3
7 to less than 8 years 3
8 to less than 9 years 2
9 to less than 10 years 0
10 to less than 11 years 1
People sentenced 111

Non-parole period

When a person is sentenced to a term of immediate imprisonment of one year or more, the court has the discretion to fix a non-parole period.  Where a non-parole period is fixed, the person must serve that period before becoming eligible for parole.  Where no non-parole period is set by the court, the person must serve the entirety of the imprisonment term.

Under section 11(4) of the Sentencing Act 1991 (Vic), if a court sentences an offender to imprisonment in respect of more than one offence, the non-parole period set by the court must be in respect of the total effective sentence of imprisonment that the offender is liable to serve under all the sentences imposed.  In many cases, the non-parole period will be longer than the individual principal sentence for theft.  Sentences and non-parole periods must be considered in this broader context.

Of the 111 people sentenced to imprisonment for theft, 99 were eligible to have a non-parole period fixed.[9] Of these people, 97 were given a non-parole period (98%).[10] Figure 7 shows the number of people sentenced to imprisonment for theft between 2009–10 and 2013–14 by length of non-parole period.  Non-parole periods ranged from 6 months to 5 years, while the median length of the non-parole period was 1 year and 9 months (meaning that half of the non-parole periods were below 1 year and 9 months and half were above).

The most common range of non-parole period imposed was 1 to less than 2 years (39 people).

Figure 7: The number of people sentenced to imprisonment for theft by length of non-parole period, 2009–10 to 2013–14

Non-parole period Number of people
Less than 1 year 16
1 to less than 2 years 39
2 to less than 3 years 26
3 to less than 4 years 9
4 to less than 5 years 3
5 to less than 6 years 4
No NPP 14
People sentenced 111

Total effective sentences of imprisonment and non-parole periods

Figure 8 presents the average length of total effective sentences of imprisonment compared with the average length of non-parole periods from 2009–10 to 2013–14.

From 2009–10 to 2013–14, the average length of total effective sentences for all people ranged from 2 years and 9 months in 2011–12 to 3 years and 8 months in 2009–10.  Over the same period, the average length of non-parole periods ranged from 1 year and 8 months in 2011–12 to 2 years and 3 months in 2010–11.

Figure 8: The average total effective sentence and the average non-parole period imposed on people sentenced to imprisonment for theft, 2009–10 to 2013–14

Financial year Average total effective sentence imposed Average non-parole period imposed
2009-10 3 years, 8 months 2 years, 2 months
2010-11 3 years, 7 months 2 years, 3 months
2011-12 2 years, 9 months 1 year, 8 months
2012-13 2 years, 10 months 1 year, 9 months
2013-14 2 years, 10 months 1 year, 10 months

Total effective sentence of imprisonment by non-parole period

Data on the total effective sentence of imprisonment by non-parole period for theft are available on SACStat – Higher Courts.

Non-imprisonment sentences

Data on the length of non-imprisonment sentence types, such as community correction orders, suspended sentences and fines, are available for theft on SACStat – Higher Courts.

Summary

Between 2009–10 and 2013–14, 197 people were sentenced for theft in the higher courts.  Of these people, 111 (56%) were given a principal sentence of imprisonment.

The number and range of offences for which people with a principal offence of theft were sentenced help explain why imprisonment sentence lengths were longer for the total effective sentence than for the principal sentence. The median total effective imprisonment length was 3 years, while the median principal imprisonment length was 2 years.

Total effective imprisonment lengths ranged from 1 month to 10 years and 6 months, and non-parole periods (where imposed) ranged from 6 months to 5 years.

Endnotes

[1] This series of reports includes custodial and non-custodial supervision orders imposed under Part 5 of the Crimes (Mental Impairment and Unfitness to be Tried) Act 1997 (Vic) as sentencing orders and in the count of people sentenced.  These orders are not sentencing orders, as they are imposed in cases where the defendant is found to be unfit to stand trial and/or not guilty because of mental impairment. However, they are included in this report as they are an important form of disposition of criminal charges.

This Sentencing Snapshot is an update of Sentencing Snapshot no. 137, which describes sentencing trends for theft between 2007–08 and 2011–12.

[2] Data on first instance sentence outcomes presented in this Snapshot were obtained from the Strategic Analysis and Review Team at Court Services Victoria. The Sentencing Advisory Council collected data on appeal outcomes from the Australasian Legal Information Institute. The Sentencing Advisory Council regularly undertakes extensive quality control measures for current and historical data. While every effort is made to ensure that the data analysed in this report are accurate, the data are subject to revision.

[3] Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) s 74.

[4] The value of a penalty unit changes each year and can be found in the Victorian Government Gazette and on the Victorian Legislation and Parliamentary Documents website.

[5] If a person is sentenced for a case with a single charge, the offence for that charge is the principal offence. If a person is sentenced for more than one charge in a single case, the principal offence is the offence for the charge that attracted the most serious sentence according to the sentencing hierarchy.

[6] Immediate custodial sentences included imprisonment, partially suspended sentences, youth justice centre orders, and mix (imprisonment and community correction order).

[7] Refer to Endnote 5.

[8] In addition to the 110 principal charges sentenced to imprisonment, data presented in this section includes a mixed sentence consisting of imprisonment and a community correction order imposed for a principal charge.

[9] A total of 12 people were not eligible for parole because they were given a total effective sentence length of less than one year.

[10] A non-parole period was not set for 2 people who were eligible for a non-parole period.