Sentencing Trends for Theft in the Higher Courts of Victoria 2013-14 to 2017-18

Sentencing Snapshot 227
Date of Publication: 
9 April 2019

Sentencing Snapshot no. 227 describes sentencing outcomes for the offence of theft in the County Court of Victoria from 2013-14 to 2017-18.

This is the most recent Snapshot for this offence.

You can also access statistics for this offence on SACStat.

Authored and published by the Sentencing Advisory Council
© State of Victoria, Sentencing Advisory Council, 2019

Introduction

This Sentencing Snapshot describes sentencing outcomes1 for the offence of theft in the County Court of Victoria from 2013–14 to 2017–18.2 Adjustments made by the Court of Appeal to sentence or conviction as at June 2018 have been incorporated into the data in this Snapshot.3

Detailed data on theft and other offences is available on Sentencing Advisory Council Statistics Online (SACStat).

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’ imprisonment4 and/or a fine of 1,200 penalty units.5 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 accused consents.

Theft was the principal offence6 in 1.8% of cases sentenced in the higher courts between 2013–14 and 2017–18.

People sentenced

From 2013–14 to 2017–18, 156 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 19 people sentenced for this offence in 2017–18, down by 12 people from the previous year. This was the lowest number of people sentenced over the five years. The number of people sentenced was highest in 2014–15 (43 people).

Figure 1: The number of people sentenced for theft, by financial year, 2013–14 to 2017–18

Financial Year Total
2013-14 39
2014-15 43
2015-16 24
2016-17 31
2017-18 19
Total 156

Sentence types and trends

Figure 2 shows the total number of people sentenced for theft and the number receiving an immediate custodial sentence. An immediate custodial sentence involves at least some element of immediate imprisonment or detention.7 Over the five-year period, 74% of people were given an immediate custodial sentence.

Figure 2: The number of people sentenced for theft and the number receiving an immediate custodial sentence, 2013–14 to 2017–18

Financial Year Immediate custodial sentence People sentenced
2013-14 31 39
2014-15 31 43
2015-16 18 24
2016-17 26 31
2017-18 10 19
Total 116 156

Table 1 shows the number of people sentenced for theft by the types of sentences imposed. The availability of different sentence types has changed over time. Most notably, wholly and partially suspended sentences have now been abolished.8 Changes to community correction orders have also influenced sentencing trends over the five years covered by this Snapshot.9

Over the five-year period, the majority of people sentenced for theft received a principal sentence of imprisonment (67% or 105 of 156 people). Of these, 70 people received a sentence of imprisonment alone, 12 received imprisonment combined with a community correction order, 14 received aggregate imprisonment and the remaining 9 people received an aggregate sentence of imprisonment combined with a community correction order. The principal sentence is the sentence imposed for the charge that is the principal offence.10

The percentage of people receiving any form of imprisonment declined from 69% of sentencing outcomes for theft in 2013–14 to 47% in 2017–18. This is partly due to the large drop in non-aggregate terms of imprisonment over the five years, although the percentage of people who received an aggregate term of imprisonment increased from 0% in 2013–14 to 26% in 2017–18. On the other hand, the use of community correction orders (without imprisonment) increased over the same period, from 5% in 2013–14 to 42% in 2017–18.

Table 1: The number and percentage of people sentenced for theft, by sentence type, 2013–14 to 2017–18

Sentence type 2013–14 2014–15 2015–16 2016–17 2017–18 Total
Imprisonment 26 (67%) 21 (49%) 9 (38%) 10 (32%) 4 (21%) 70 (45%)
Community correction order 2 (5%) 2 (5%) 5 (21%) 2 (6%) 8 (42%) 19 (12%)
Wholly suspended sentence 5 (13%) 8 (19%) 0 (–) 2 (6%) 0 (–) 15 (10%)
Aggregate imprisonment 0 (–) 3 (7%) 3 (13%) 5 (16%) 3 (16%) 14 (9%)
Imprisonment and community correction order (combined) 1 (3%) 0 (–) 2 (8%) 9 (29%) 0 (–) 12 (8%)
Aggregate imprisonment and community correction order (combined) 0 (–) 3 (7%) 4 (17%) 0 (–) 2 (11%) 9 (6%)
Partially suspended sentence 4 (10%) 4 (9%) 0 (–) 1 (3%) 0 (–) 9 (6%)
Aggregate partially suspended sentence 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (5%) 1 (<1%)
Wholly suspended sentence and aggregate fine (combined) 1 (3%) 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (<1%)
Aggregate fine 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (5%) 1 (<1%)
Fine 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (3%) 0 (–) 1 (<1%)
Youth justice centre order 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (3%) 0 (–) 1 (<1%)
Unconditional release 0 (–) 1 (2%) 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (<1%)
Adjourned undertaking with conviction 0 (–) 1 (2%) 0 (–) 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (<1%)
Adjourned undertaking without conviction 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (4%) 0 (–) 0 (–) 1 (<1%)
People sentenced 39 43 24 31 19 156

Principal and total effective sentences

In this section, two methods are used to describe sentence lengths. One method relates to the principal sentence and describes sentences for the offence at a charge level. The other relates to the total effective sentence and describes sentences for the offence at a case level (the principal sentence is described above).

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).

Where a case involves multiple charges, the total effective sentence imposed on a person is sometimes 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 2013–14 to 2017–18.

Principal sentence of imprisonment

A total of 105 people received a principal sentence of imprisonment for theft from 2013–14 to 2017–18. Of these, 82 people received a non-aggregate term of imprisonment and 23 people received an aggregate term. There were 21 people who received a community correction order in addition to their term of imprisonment.

Figure 3 shows the length of imprisonment for the people who received a non-aggregate term.11 Imprisonment terms ranged from 16 days to 4 years, while the median length of imprisonment was 1 year and 6 months (meaning that half of the imprisonment terms were below 1 year and 6 months and half were above).

The most common length of imprisonment was 1 to less than 2 years (24 people).

Figure 3: The number of people sentenced to imprisonment for theft, by length of imprisonment term, 2013–14 to 2017–18

Imprisonment length Number of people
Less than 1 year 22
1 to less than 2 years 24
2 to less than 3 years 21
3 to less than 4 years 14
4 to less than 5 years 1
People sentenced 82

As shown in Figure 4, the average (mean) length of imprisonment imposed on people sentenced for theft ranged from 1 year and 2 months in 2017–18 to 1 year and 10 months in 2013–14. The average length of imprisonment for the principal offence of theft gradually declined over the five years, falling 39% from 1 year and 10 months in 2013–14 to 1 year and 2 months in 2017–18. Similarly, the number of people who received imprisonment for theft also dropped substantially over the same period, falling 85% from 27 people in 2013–14 to 4 people in 2017–18. This downward shift in non-aggregate terms of imprisonment was otherwise offset by an increasing number of people receiving aggregate terms of imprisonment over the same period, as demonstrated in Table 1.

Figure 4: The average (mean) length of imprisonment imposed on people sentenced for theft, 2013–14 to 2017–18

Financial year Number of people Average length of imprisonment term
2013-14 27 1y, 10m
2014-15 21 1y, 8m
2015-16 11 1y, 6m
2016-17 19 1y, 5m
2017-18 4 1y, 2m

Other offences finalised at the same hearing

Sometimes people prosecuted for theft face multiple charges, which are finalised at the same hearing. This section looks at the range of offences that offenders were sentenced for alongside the principal offence of theft. The section includes data on all people sentenced for a principal offence of theft, not just those who received imprisonment.

Figure 5 shows the number of people sentenced for the principal offence of theft by the total number of offences per person. The number of sentenced offences per person ranged from 1 to 81, while the median was 3 offences. There were 30 people (19.2%) sentenced for the single offence of theft. The average number of offences per person was 7.29.

Figure 5: The number of people sentenced for the principal offence of theft, by the number of sentenced offences per person, 2013–14 to 2017–18

Number of offences Number of people
1 30
2 21
3 27
4 19
5-9 37
10-19 10
20-49 9
50+ 3
Total 156

Table 2 shows the 10 most common offences, by number and percentage, for people sentenced for theft. The last column sets out the average number of offences sentenced per person. For example, 11 of the total 156 people (7.1%) also received sentences for burglary. On average, they were sentenced for 3.91 counts of burglary.

Table 2: The number and percentage of people sentenced for the principal offence of theft by the most common offences that were sentenced and the average number of those offences that were sentenced, 2013–14 to 2017–18

Offence Number of cases Percentage of cases Average number of proven offences per case
1. Theft 156 100% 5.76
2. Burglary 11 7.1% 3.91
3. Possess a drug of dependence 9 5.8% 1.67
4. Obtaining a financial advantage by deception 8 5.1% 3.88
5. Handling stolen goods 8 5.1% 1.63
6. Deal with property suspected of being proceeds of crime 8 5.1% 1.00
7. Obtaining property by deception 7 4.5% 6.00
8. Possess unlicenced cartridge ammunition 5 3.2% 1.40
9. Commit an indictable offence while on bail 5 3.2% 1.00
10. Intentionally destroy/damage property (criminal damage) 4 2.6% 1.75
People sentenced 156 100% 7.29

Total effective imprisonment terms

Figure 6 shows the number of people sentenced to imprisonment for theft by length of total effective imprisonment term. The total effective imprisonment terms ranged from 16 days to 8 years, while the median total effective imprisonment term was 2 years and 3 months (meaning that half of the total effective imprisonment terms were below 2 years and 3 months and half were above).

The most common total effective imprisonment term was 3 to less than 4 years (25 people).

Figure 6: The number of people sentenced to imprisonment for theft, by length of total effective imprisonment term, 2013–14 to 2017–18

Total effective imprisonment length Number of people
Less than 1 year 24
1 to less than 2 years 19
2 to less than 3 years 17
3 to less than 4 years 25
4 to less than 5 years 10
5 to less than 6 years 3
6 to less than 7 years 4
7 to less than 8 years 2
8 to less than 9 years 1
People sentenced 105

Non-parole period

If a person is sentenced to a term of immediate imprisonment of less than 1 year, the court cannot impose a non-parole period. For terms between 1 year and less than 2 years, the court has the discretion to fix a non-parole period. For terms of imprisonment of 2 years or more, the court must impose a non-parole period in most circumstances. If the court fixes a non-parole period, the person must serve that period before becoming eligible for parole. If the court does not set a non-parole period, the person must serve the entirety of their imprisonment term in custody.

Of the 105 people who were sentenced to imprisonment for theft, 81 were eligible to have a non-parole period fixed.12 Of these people, 67 were given a non-parole period (83%).13 Figure 7 shows the number of people sentenced to imprisonment for theft by length of non-parole period. Non-parole periods ranged from 6 months to 6 years, while the median 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 non-parole period imposed was 1 to less than 2 years (28 people); however, the most common outcome was that no non-parole period was imposed (36 people).

Figure 7: The number of people sentenced to imprisonment for theft, by length of non-parole period, 2013–14 to 2017–18

Non-parole period Number of people
Less than 1 year 9
1 to less than 2 years 28
2 to less than 3 years 19
3 to less than 4 years 4
4 to less than 5 years 5
5 to less than 6 years 1
6 to less than 7 years 1
No non-parole period 36
Total people 103

Total effective sentences of imprisonment and non-parole periods

Figure 8 compares the average length of total effective sentences of imprisonment with the average length of non-parole periods.

From 2013–14 to 2017–18, the average length of total effective sentences for all people ranged from 1 year and 11 months in 2017–18 to 3 years and 2 months in 2016–17. Over the same period, the average length of non-parole periods ranged from 1 year and 7 months in 2017–18 to 2 years and 9 months in 2016–17.

Figure 8: The average total effective sentence and the average non-parole period imposed on people sentenced to imprisonment for theft, 2013–14 to 2017–18

Financial year Average total effective length Average non-parole period
2013-14 2y, 9m 1y, 9m
2014-15 2y, 0m 1y, 8m
2015-16 2y, 1m 1y, 9m
2016-17 3y, 2m 2y, 9m
2017-18 1y, 11m 1y, 7m

Further data on total effective sentences of imprisonment and corresponding non-parole periods for theft is available on SACStat. Data on the length of non-imprisonment sentence types, such as community correction orders and fines, for theft is also available on SACStat.

Summary

From 2013–14 to 2017–18, 156 people were sentenced for theft in the higher courts. Of these people, 105 (67%) were given a principal sentence of imprisonment.

People with a principal offence of theft were sometimes sentenced for other offences. The number and range of those offences 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 2 years and 3 months, while the median principal imprisonment length was 1 year and 6 months.

Total effective imprisonment lengths ranged from 16 days to 8 years, and non-parole periods (where imposed) ranged from 6 months to 6 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 in which the accused is found to be unfit to stand trial 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. 202, which describes sentencing trends for theft between 2011–12 and 2015–16.

2. Data on first-instance sentencing outcomes in this Snapshot was obtained from the Strategic Analysis and Review Team at Court Services Victoria. Data on appeal outcomes was collected by the Sentencing Advisory Council from the Australasian Legal Information Institute, and was also provided by the Victorian Court of Appeal. 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 is accurate, the data is subject to revision.

3. In October 2017, the High Court delivered its judgment in Director of Public Prosecutions v Dalgliesh (A Pseudonym) [2017] HCA 41, in which it made two important findings about sentencing in Victoria. First, Victorian courts had been giving too much weight to current sentencing practices, which is just one of the factors courts are required to take into account when imposing a sentence. Second, where current sentencing practices are shown to be in error (for example, when they fail to adequately reflect community expectations) courts should change their practices immediately, not incrementally.

Although the High Court’s decision only occurred during the last financial year of this Snapshot, it may result in considerable changes to sentencing patterns for future editions of the Snapshots.

4. Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) s 74. This Snapshot excludes offences of theft of a firearm (Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) s 74AA), which has a maximum penalty of 15 years.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. An immediate custodial sentence includes imprisonment, aggregate imprisonment, aggregate imprisonment combined with a community correction order, an aggregate partially suspended sentence, imprisonment combined with a community correction order, a partially suspended sentence and a youth justice centre order.

8. Suspended sentences have been abolished in the higher courts for all offences committed on or after 1 September 2013 and in the Magistrates’ Court for all offences committed on or after 1 September 2014.

9. For example, initially the maximum term of imprisonment that could be combined with a community correction order was set at 3 months, but it was increased to 2 years in September 2014 and reduced to 1 year in March 2017.

10. Refer to Endnote 6.

11. Data presented in this section does not include imprisonment lengths for people who received an aggregate sentence of imprisonment. Sentence lengths for aggregate sentences of imprisonment apply to the whole case, while Figures 3 and 4 only deal with sentences of imprisonment for the principal offence of theft.

12. A total of 24 people were not eligible to have a non-parole period fixed because they were given a total effective sentence length of less than 1 year.

13. Two people were not given a non-parole period relating to that case alone, but a non-parole period that also related to other cases. It is not possible to determine the length of the non-parole periods that relate to these cases. The non-parole periods for these people are excluded from the analysis. A non-parole period was not set for 12 people who were eligible for a non-parole period.