Possess Property Reasonably Suspected To Be Stolen

Possess Property Reasonably Suspected To Be Stolen

This charge is generally laid in situations where a person has in his or her actual possession or conveys in any manner any personal property that is reasonably suspected of being stolen or unlawfully obtained.

The word ‘possession’ implies that the person had knowledge of the property in question. Therefore an awareness or intent of the accused needs to be established by police. If that can be achieved the accused must legitimise the property. That means on the balance of probabilities, the accused must show that they acquired the property legally.

For a police officer to have a reasonable suspicion it must be warranted by facts which then create a situation whereby an inference that the property is stolen can be drawn. They do not need to have proof.
Woman Being Arrested
The offence of possessing property reasonably suspected to be stolen is the sort of charge regularly heard in the Magistrates Court.
What is the legal definition of Possess Property Reasonably Suspected to Be Stolen?
  1. Any person having in his actual possession or conveying in any manner any personal property whatsoever reasonably suspected of being stolen or unlawfully obtained whether in or outside Victoria may be arrested either with or without warrant and brought before a bail justice or the Magistrates’ Court, or may be summoned to appear before the Magistrates’ Court.
  2. If such person does not in the opinion of the court give a satisfactory account as to how he came by such property he shall be guilty of an offence.
  3. Upon proof that any property was or had been in the actual possession of such person or under his control and whether or not such person still has possession or control thereof when brought before the court the property shall for the purposes of this section be deemed to be in his actual possession.
  4. Where a person is charged before the Magistrates’ Court with an offence under this section the court may proceed to hear and determine the matter notwithstanding that it appears from the evidence that the person charged stole or unlawfully obtained the property concerned in a place outside Victoria in circumstances amounting to the commission of a criminal offence in that place.Penalty: Imprisonment for one year.
“Have you been accused of possessing stolen goods?”
Examples of Possess Property Reasonably Suspected to Be Stolen
  • A person is seen walking a bicycle down a street in Port Melbourne at 2 am. They do not have a helmet with them or any bicycle lights. A police officer finds the situation to be reasonably suspicious. When questioned, the person says they bought it off a stranger at the local pub.
  • A person approaches another person with a vintage car of which there are only 1200 made in the world. The buyer, an avid car enthusiast and trader, purchases the car for a very low price and does not take adequate care when considering the legitimacy of the sale. The car is reported stolen and found in their possession.
The legislation for this offence can be found on section 26 of Summary Offences Act 1966.

Elements of the offence
In essence to prove this charge the Police must show that the accused had in their actual possession or was conveying in any manner any personal property that was reasonably suspected of being stolen or unlawfully obtained. The accused must be proved to have done so needlessly.
Possible defences to this charge could be a claim of right, duress, a factual dispute, the concept of beyond reasonable doubt, honest and reasonable mistake of belief, or a lack of intent.

Questions in cases like this
  • Were you possessing or in control of the property?
  • Did you have a legitimate excuse for possessing the property?
  • Did the police have reasonable grounds for questioning you?
You should ring us and discuss your case if you have been charged. Deciding on whether to plead guilty or not while have major implications for you and should be made after proper discussion with a criminal lawyer.

The maximum penalty for Possess Property Reasonably Suspected To Be Stolen (s26 of the Summary Offences Act 1966) is 12 months imprisonment.

Sentencing in the Magistrates’ Courts
From 1 July 2013 to 30 June 2016, a total of 214 cases (231 charges) of Possess Suspected Stolen Goods – section 26(1) were heard in the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria. These cases resulted in imprisonment (42.1%), Community Correction Order (27.6%), fine (15.9%), adjourned undertaking/discharge/dismissal (6.5%), wholly suspended sentence (5.6%), partially suspended sentence (0.9%), Youth Justice Centre order (0.9%), and other forms of sentencing (0.5%).

Of the 90 cases that led to imprisonment, 1.1% received the highest prison term which was for 36+ months (this term was the least imposed of all prison terms). Majority of those who were sentenced to imprisonment received a term that was between 3 and 12 months (51.2%).

Majority of those who were sentenced to financial penalties received a fine that was between $500 and $1,000 (31.1% for aggregate), and less than $1,000 (8.8% for non-aggregate). The highest amount imposed was between $4,000 and $5,000 (2.2% for aggregate).1

Please note that suspended sentences were abolished in Victoria for all offences committed on or after 1 September 2014.2

[1] SAC Statistics – Summary Offences Act 1966 (Vic) : s 26(1) – possess suspected stolen goods < https://www.sentencingcouncil.vic.gov.au/sacstat/magistrates_court/7405_26_1.html >
[2] Suspended Sentence | The Sentencing Advisory Council < https://www.sentencingcouncil.vic.gov.au/about-sentencing/sentencing-options-for-adults/suspended-sentence >