Threats to Destroy or Damage Property

– section 198 of the Crimes Act 1958
Angry Man on Stairs
A person may be charged with making threats to destroy or damage property if he or she threatens to damage or destroy property to either the owner of the property or to a third person, with the intention of endangering another person’s life.
Examples of Threats to Destroy or Damage Property
  • Telling your neighbour that you plan on damaging your ex-partner’s car to put her or him at risk of death;
  • Telling your colleague that you will damage property belonging to your employer, placing other colleagues or members of the public at risk of death.
Questions in cases like this
  • Did you make the threats?
  • What words did you say?
  • Did you intend to endanger the victim’s life when you made the threats?
What are some of the possible defences to Threats to Destroy or Damage Property?

Possible defences to this charge could be duress, a factual dispute, lack of intent or wrongful identification.

You should call us to discuss your case with one of our experienced lawyers 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.

Maximum penalty and court that deals with this charge

This charge has a maximum penalty of level 6 imprisonment (5 years). Threats to Destroy or Damage Property is the sort of charge regularly heard in the Magistrates’ Court. That is if the value of the property threatened to be damaged or destroyed is less than $100,000 otherwise the charge will be heard in the County Court.

What is the legal definition of Threats to Destroy or Damage Property?

Section 198 of the Crimes Act provides that the threat must be made without lawful excuse for this offence to be made out. The Free Legal Dictionary defines ‘to destroy’ as to completely ruin a structure beyond the possibility of use.

Legislation

The legislation for this offence can be found on section 198 of Crimes Act 1958.

Elements of the offence

The Police must show that the accused:

  1. made a threat to another person that they would destroy or damage property belonging to that other person, a third party or the accused and another person; or
  2. the accused made a threat to another person that they would destroy or damage property that they believed or knew was likely to endanger the life of that other person or a third person.
“Can the police prove that you intended to endanger another person’s life when you made the threats to damage or destroy their property?”
Sentencing in the higher courts

Higher CourtIn the higher courts of Victoria, there were a total of 15 charges of Threaten to Destroy or Damage Property that were heard from 1 July 2011 to 30 June 2016. These charges primarily resulted in a term of imprisonment (66.7%). There were also charges that led to a Community Correction Order (20%), partially suspended sentence (6.7%), and financial penalties (6.7%).

Of the charges that led to a prison term, 90% were sentenced to less than a year.1

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.2

Sentencing in the Magistrates’ Courts

In the Magistrates’ Courts, there were 898 cases (971 charges) of Make Threat to Destroy or Damage Property that were heard from 1 July 2011 to 30 June 2016. Most of these cases resulted in a Community Correction Order (31.3%), followed by imprisonment (28.1%), fine (18.6%), adjourned undertaking/discharge/dismissal (14.8%), wholly suspended sentence (4.9%), and partially suspended sentence (1.9%).

There were 251 cases that resulted in imprisonment and 37.1% (majority) of these cases were sentenced to a term that was less than 3 months. The highest term imposed was more than 36 months (0.4%).

Of the fines imposed, majority fell under the “$500 < $1,000” category (38.1% for aggregate and 10.5% for non-aggregate). The highest amount imposed was somewhere between $4,000 and $5,000 (0.6% for aggregate).3

Please note that suspended sentences were abolished in Victoria for all offences committed on or after 1 September 2014.4

Questions a Judge would ask

If this charge was being determined in the County Court before a judge and jury, the judge may ask the jury:

  1. Are you satisfied that the property belonged to another person?
  2. Are you satisfied that the accused intended to endanger the victim’s life when he/she made the threats to destroy or damage their property?
Other important resources

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[1] Sentencing Advisory Council. “SACStat Higher Courts – Crimes Act 1958 (Vic): s 198(a) – threaten to destroy or damage property.” SentencingCouncil.vic.gov.au. https://www.sentencingcouncil.vic.gov.au/sacstat/higher_courts/HC_6231_198_A.html (accessed December 17, 2018).
[2] Sentencing Advisory Council. “Suspended Sentence.” SentencingCouncil.vic.gov.au. https://www.sentencingcouncil.vic.gov.au/about-sentencing/sentencing-options-for-adults/suspended-sentence (accessed December 17, 2018).
[3] Sentencing Advisory Council. “SAC Statistics – Crimes Act 1958 (Vic): s 198(a) – make threat to destroy or damage property.” SentencingCouncil.vic.gov.au. https://www.sentencingcouncil.vic.gov.au/sacstat/magistrates_court/6231_198_a.html (accessed December 17, 2018).
[4] Sentencing Advisory Council. “Suspended Sentence.” SentencingCouncil.vic.gov.au. https://www.sentencingcouncil.vic.gov.au/about-sentencing/sentencing-options-for-adults/suspended-sentence (accessed December 17, 2018).