','

' ); } ?>

Handling Stolen Goods

Handling stolen goods is a charge for the dishonest handling of property through retention, removal, disposal or realisation by or for the benefit of another person. Put simply, this offence is committed when a person dishonestly receives goods knowing or believing them to be stolen. As you will see below, there are a number of ways in which this offence can be committed.

The offence is governed by section 88 of the Crimes Act 1958 (‘the Act’). Some key points in the legislation include:

  • There are 24 ways listed in the legislation in which a person can ‘handle’ goods.
  • The offence can be committed if someone dishonestly brings or assists in bringing stolen goods into Victoria.1
  • This offence can also be committed if someone undertook, assisted with or arranged for the retention, removal or disposal of the stolen goods for the benefit of another person.2
  • This offence, if someone is found guilty of, is liable to 15 years imprisonment.

[1] Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) s 88(2-4).
[2] Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) s 88(5-24).

 
Handling stolen goods is an indictable offence, which means that it may be heard in the higher courts; however, it is often dealt with in Magistrates’ Court. The seriousness of the circumstances surrounding the charge will determine in what court the matter is heard.

If the value of the goods exceeds $100,000.00 or if it is attached to more serious dishonesty charges, it may then be heard in the higher courts. This offence is a medium range dishonesty offence which does not generally carry a gaol term when guilt is established in the Magistrates’ Court and if it is a single first offence.
 
The elements of Handling Stolen Goods
There are four elements that constitute the offence of handling stolen goods:

  1. The accused handled the goods;
  2. The goods were stolen goods at the time the accused handled them;
  3. The accused knew or believed at the time he or she handled them they were stolen goods; and
  4. The accused’s handling of the goods was dishonest.
Element 1: Accused handled the goods
Handling is defined in the Act as the retention, removal, disposal or realisation by or for the benefit of another person. Goods include money, every other type of property except land (i.e. clothing, electronics, books) and things severed from the land by stealing.

You should be aware that a person who receives the goods and does nothing more, does not handle them. The accused must have done one of the below actions:

  • Undertaken or arranged to undertake that activity him or herself for the benefit of another person.
  • Assisted or arranged to assist another person to carry out that activity.
  • Retained the goods for the benefit of another person.
  • Assisted another person to retain the goods; or
  • Arranged to do one of the above.
Receiving goods means the accused takes them into his or her possession.3

The prosecution must establish that the accused had custody or control over the goods and intended to have custody or control over them. In a case where it is alleged that the act of handling involved the retention, removal, disposal or realization of stolen goods, someone who simply receives stolen goods will not meet the definition of ‘handling’, as they must do something further. This further action could firstly involve an act of retaining, assisting another to retain or arranging for the retaining of the goods. Secondly, this further action could also be for the benefit of another person, or arranging it to be for the benefit of another person.4

Undertaking means that the accused undertakes one of the prohibited activities himself/herself.

Assisting means that the accused helps another person to perform one of the above listed prohibited activities. An accused can assist in an activity even if the assistance is futile.

Selling stolen goods for an accused’s own benefit does not make out the handling charge (for example selling stolen goods and keeping all the proceeds). To have “handled” the goods, the accused must have sold them for the benefit of a person other than the purchaser.

Please note selling stolen goods may result in other criminal charges.

If this charge is heard in the higher courts, the prosecution should clarify in the indictment which form of handling is alleged.

Element 2: The goods were stolen goods
In a charge of Handling Stolen Goods, the prosecution must prove that the goods were stolen at the time the accused handled them. The goods can be stolen in Victoria or elsewhere. Goods can also cease to be stolen if:

  1. They are restored to the person from whom they were stolen;
  2. They are restored to other lawful possession or custody; or
  3. The person from whom they were stolen and any other person claiming through him or her have otherwise ceased to have any right to restitution of those goods in respect of the theft (Crimes Act 1958 s90(3)).
An accused may admit that the goods were stolen having the required knowledge after being charged. This does not necessarily mean that they knew them to be stolen at the time. The circumstances that give rise to the goods being in their possession can also be sufficient proof that they were stolen. The Prosecution can make enquiries to the owner of the goods, if traceable or known, to satisfy this element.

Element 3: Knowledge or belief that the goods were stolen
The third element requires the prosecution to establish that the accused knew or believed the goods to be stolen. The belief of the accused is to be judged by subjective standards. A suspicion that the goods were stolen is not sufficient.

  • The element requires actual knowledge or belief. The fact that a person is negligent or reckless in handling goods is not sufficient evidence.
Evidence that the accused knew certain facts which should have put him or her on notice as to whether the goods were stolen does not necessarily prove that the accused knew or believed that the goods had been stolen. If the jury is satisfied that the accused ignored suspicious circumstances, they must determine whether this was because the accused knew or believed the goods were stolen. They must reject the possibility that the accused was simply gullible, naive or absent-minded.

To determine whether the accused knew or believed, the jury may also turn to the circumstances of the alleged offending. In R v Woods,5 evidence that an accused had driven a car containing stolen goods out of a street, then on seeing the police, had reversed back into the same street and when subsequently questioned had denied that he possessed the keys in the car, was admissible as it was relevant to the issue of guilty knowledge.

Element 4: The accused handling of the goods was dishonest
The prosecution must prove that when the accused, by deception, obtained the property, he or she was acting dishonestly. That being that the accused himself or herself did not believe that he or she had, in all the circumstances, a legal right to obtain the property.

Examples of Handling Stolen Goods
  • An instance when you bought a laptop from a person when you knew or believed that they had stolen it and then sold it to you.
  • An instance when you bought a bicycle from someone when you knew or believed that they had stolen it and then giving the bicycle to another person.
  • An instance where you have received goods that have ‘fallen off the back of a truck’. Knowledge that goods were dishonestly obtained may result in a criminal charge.

[3] R v Cottrell [1983] 1 VR 143.
[4] R v Brown [1970] 1 QB 105.
[5] [1987] 1 WLR 779 cited in Nash, Gerard, Bourke’s Criminal Law Victoria (LexisNexis Butterworths, 5th ed, 2005).

 
Lack of knowledge is a defence available to the charge if the accused did not have knowledge that the goods handled were stolen. Other defences available include factual dispute, duress, wrongful identification, mental impairment, honest and reasonable mistake or necessity.

In a case involving the charge of Handling Stolen Goods, the questions that will be considered are:
  1. Did the accused handle goods?
    (Consider – Did the accused [identify goods and relevant form of handling]?)
    If yes, then go to 2.
    If no, then the accused is not guilty of handling stolen goods.
  2. Were the goods the accused handled stolen goods?
    If yes, then go to 3.
    If no, then the accused is not guilty of handling stolen goods.
  3. Did the accused know or believe that the goods were stolen at the time of the handling?
    If yes, then go to 4.
    If no, then the accused is not guilty of handling stolen goods.
  4. Was the accused acting dishonestly at the time of handling the goods?
    (Consider – Has the prosecution proved that the accused did not believe that he/she had a legal right to [identify relevant form of handling])?
    If yes, then the accused is guilty of handling stolen goods (as long as you have also answered Yes to questions 1, 2 and 3).
    If no, then the accused is not guilty of handling stolen goods.

The Act states that the offence of Handling Stolen Goods (s88 of the Crimes Act 1958) carries a 15 year term of imprisonment as the highest possible sentence. However, the maximum term of imprisonment that can be imposed in the Magistrates’ Court for a single offence is two years. Further, the maximum aggregate total sentence that can be imposed is five years.

Sentencing in the higher courts
From 1 July 2013 to 30 June 2018, there were 16 cases (439 charges) of Handling Stolen Goods that were heard in the higher courts of Victoria. Most of these cases resulted in Imprisonment (62.5%) although there were also a few that led to other penalties: Community Correction Order (18.8%), Wholly Suspended Sentence (12.5%), and Fine (6.2%).

Most of the prison terms that were imposed were below 1 year (50%) of all cases that led to imprisonment. The longest term imposed was somewhere between 2 and 4 years although this category was least imposed at only 10%.6

Please note that suspended sentences were abolished in the higher courts earlier than that of the Magistrates’ Court, and therefore all offences committed on or after 1 September 2013 will not have this available as a sentencing option.7

Sentencing in the Magistrates’ Courts
In the Magistrates’ Courts, a total of 7,354 cases (12,204) of Handling Stolen Goods were heard from 1 July 2013 to 30 June 2016. These cases led to the following sentences:

  • Imprisonment – 39.6 %
  • Community Correction Order (CCO) – 27.8 %
  • Fine – 15.1 %
  • Adjourned Undertaking/Discharge/Dismissal – 8.0 %
  • Wholly Suspended Sentence – 5.7 %
  • Partially Suspended Sentence – 2.2 %
  • Other – 0.9 %
  • Youth Justice Centre Order – 0.8 %
Of the prison terms imposed, majority were sentenced to a period that was between 3 and 6 months (27.4%). The longest term imposed was 36+ months (1.1%).

For CCO terms, the longest was 24+ months (8.4%, non-aggregate). The most frequently imposed CCO term during the period was somewhere between 12 and 18 months (44.5%, non-aggregate).8

Please note that suspended sentences were abolished in Victoria for all offences committed on or after 1 September 2014.9

Further information on sentencing
Because the offence of handling stolen goods may occur in a wide range of circumstances, the courts have never formulated any sentencing practice of general application in relation to the offence.10 Despite this, those who commit the offence are, generally speaking, in serious danger of imprisonment, and those who commit the offence in the furtherance of ‘business’ interests are especially at risk, as the Court of Appeal has observed on more than one occasion.11


[6] Sentencing Advisory Council. “SACStat Higher Courts – Crimes Act 1958 (Vic): s 88(1) – handling stolen goods.” SentencingCouncil.vic.gov.au. https://www.sentencingcouncil.vic.gov.au/sacstat/higher_courts/HC_6231_88_1.html (accessed October 23, 2019).
[7] Sentencing Advisory Council. “Abolished Sentencing Orders.” SentencingCouncil.vic.gov.au. https://www.sentencingcouncil.vic.gov.au/about-sentencing/abolished-sentencing-orders (accessed October 23, 2019).
[8] Sentencing Advisory Council. “SAC Statistics – Crimes Act 1958 (Vic): s 88(1) – handling stolen goods.” SentencingCouncil.vic.gov.au. https://www.sentencingcouncil.vic.gov.au/sacstat/magistrates_court/6231_88_1.html (accessed October 23, 2019).
[9] Sentencing Advisory Council. “Abolished Sentencing Orders.” SentencingCouncil.vic.gov.au. https://www.sentencingcouncil.vic.gov.au/about-sentencing/abolished-sentencing-orders (accessed October 23, 2019).
[10] Judicial College of Victoria, Sentencing guidelines for handling stolen goods, (3 November 2005) Judicial College < http://www.judicialcollege.vic.edu.au/eManuals/VSM/12320.htm>.
[11] R v Prokop [1987] VCCA.