Threatening to Contaminate Goods

– section 250 of the Crimes Act 1958
Woman on the Phone Behind Barricade TapeThis charge is laid when a person threatens that goods will be contaminated with the intention of causing, or being reckless as to whether or not the threat would cause, public alarm or anxiety or economic loss through public awareness of the threat.
Examples of Threatening to Contaminate Goods
  • A person threatens to poison a towns water supply with the intention of generating public alarm and anxiety.
  • A person threatens to hide sharp needles in berries distributed to local supermarkets. The person is reckless as to whether their actions could discourage members of the public from purchasing the berries.
  • A person makes it appear that vegetables at a local market are unfit for human consumption. This causes members of the public to avoid purchasing vegetables at the market.
Questions in cases like this
  • Did the accused make a threat that goods will be contaminated?
  • Did the accused intend that their threat would cause public alarm or anxiety; or economic loss through public awareness of the threat?
  • Was the accused reckless as to whether their threat would cause public alarm or anxiety; or economic loss through public awareness of the threat?
What are some of the possible defences to Threatening to Contaminate Goods?

Defences to this charge ordinarily turn on some element of the offence not being made out. These include:

  • The accused did not make any threat that goods will be contaminated;
  • The accused did not intend and was not reckless as to whether their threat would cause public alarm or anxiety; or economic loss through public awareness of the threat.

Other defences to this charge may include duress and sudden and extraordinary emergency in certain circumstances.1

You should ring us and discuss your case if you have been charged. Deciding on whether to plead guilty or not has important implications for you and should be made after proper discussions with a criminal lawyer.

Maximum penalty and court that deals with this charge

FineIf proven guilty, an accused may be sentenced to a maximum of 10 years imprisonment or 1200 penalty units (a $193,428 fine), or both.2

The value of a penalty unit is reviewed annually by the Department of Treasury and Finance on 1 July every year. As such, the maximum fine for this offence is liable to change. See Penalties and Values – Penalty Units on the Victorian Department of Justice Website for more information.

Threatening to Contaminate Goods is an indictable offence triable summarily and is ordinarily heard in the Magistrates’ Court.3

What is the legal definition of Threatening to Contaminate Goods?
  1. A person must not make a threat that goods will be contaminated with the intention of causing, or being reckless as to whether or not the threat would cause—
    1. public alarm or anxiety; or
    2. economic loss through public awareness of the threat.

    Penalty: Level 5 imprisonment (10 years maximum) or a level 5 fine (1200 penalty units maximum) or both.

  2. For the purposes of this section, a threat may be made by any conduct, and may be explicit or implicit and conditional or unconditional.

Note – Division 2B of Part 4 of the Sentencing Act 1991 provides for the making of cost recovery orders in respect of costs incurred by emergency service agencies in providing an immediate response to an emergency arising out of the commission of an offence against this section.

Legislation

The relevant legislative provision for this offence is section 250 of Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) (the Act).

Elements of the offence

To prove this offence, the prosecution must establish the following elements beyond reasonable doubt:

  1. The accused made a threat to contaminate goods; and
  2. The accused intended or was reckless as to whether their threat would cause public alarm or anxiety; or economic loss through public awareness of the threat.

Element 1: the accused made a threat to contaminate goods
A threat may be made by ‘any conduct’ and may be ‘explicit or implicit and conditional or unconditional’.4

‘Contamination’ in relation to goods means interfering with goods or ‘making it appear’ that goods have been contaminated or interfered with.5

‘Goods’ includes any substance, whether or not for human consumption, natural or manufactured and whether or not incorporated or mixed with other goods.6

“Can they prove that you made a threat to contaminate goods?”

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Element 2: the accused intended or was reckless as to whether their threat would cause public alarm or anxiety; or economic loss through public awareness of the threat
An accused must have ‘intended’ or been ‘reckless as to whether’ their threat would cause public alarm or anxiety, or economic loss through public awareness of the threat.

An accused will ‘intend’ that their cause public alarm or anxiety, or economic loss through public awareness of the threat if they wish for these outcomes to occur when they make the threat.

An accused will be ‘reckless’ as to whether their threat will cause public alarm or anxiety, or economic loss through public awareness of the threat if they were aware that these outcomes would probably result from them making the threat.7 ‘Probably’ in this context means ‘likely to happen’.8

‘Public alarm and anxiety’ is not defined in the Act and carries its ordinary meaning. ‘Economic loss caused through public awareness of the threat’ means members of the public not purchasing or using goods subject to the threat or similar goods; or steps taken to avoid public alarm or anxiety or to avoid harm to members of the public.9

It is irrelevant whether the accused made a threat outside Victoria, so long as the accused intended to cause, or was reckless as to whether or not the threat would cause, public alarm or anxiety in Victoria or economic loss through public awareness of the threat in Victoria.10

Other important resources

 



[1] Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) ss 322O; 322R.
[2] Crimes Act 1958 (Vic), s 250.
[3] Criminal Procedure Act 2009 (Vic), s 28.
[4] Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) s 250(2).
[5] Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) s 248(1).
[6] Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) s 248(1).
[7] R v Crabbe (1985) 156 CLR 464; R v Thomaslav Dusko Kalajdic [2005] VSCA 160.
[8] R v Crabbe (1985) 156 CLR 464.
[9] Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) s 248(2).
[10] Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) s 252.