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This article was written by Michelle Makela - Legal Practice Director

Michelle has over 15 years experience in the legal industry, working across commercial litigation, criminal law, family law and estate planning.  Michelle has been involved in all practice areas of the firm and in her personal practice has had experience in litigation at all levels (state and federal industrial tribunals, the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, the Federal Court, Federal...

Stealing Offences (WA)


In Western Australia, stealing is an offence under section 378 of the Criminal Code. Things capable of being stolen include all moveable inanimate things which are the property of a person. The term ‘stealing’ is defined in section 371 as fraudulently taking anything capable of being stolen or fraudulently converting something to one’s own use or to the use of another person. This article outlines the stealing offences that exist under WA criminal law. 

What does ‘fraudulently’ mean?

A person takes a thing fraudulently if they do so with:

  • Intent to permanently deprive the owner of it or of any part of it;
  • Intent to permanently deprive a person with special property in the thing or property of such special property;
  • Intent to part with the thing on the condition of its return which the person taking or converting it may be unable to perform;
  • Intent to use it as a pledge or security;
  • Intent to deal with it in a manner that it cannot be returned in the same condition; and
  • In respect of money, intent to use the money at the will of the person who takes or converts it (regardless of whether they intend to afterwards repay the amount to the owner.)

Taking or converting property can be considered fraudulent even if it is done without secrecy and without any attempt to conceal the act.

Is stealing an indictable or summary offence?

Stealing is an indictable offence in Western Australia. This means that a charge can be heard on indictment, in the District Court. However, under section 426 of the Criminal Code, certain offences can also be dealt with summarily. When a stealing offence is dealt with summarily (in the Magistrates Court), the maximum penalty that can be imposed for a single charge is imprisonment for two years.

Stealing motor vehicles

A person is guilty of stealing a motor vehicle if they unlawfully drive or use the motor vehicle without the consent of its owner or the person in charge of it. This offence is contained in section 371A of the Criminal Code. 

If an accused steals a motor vehicle and wilfully drives it dangerously or recklessly, they are liable to be imprisoned for up to 8 years. In any other situation, stealing or attempting to steal a motor vehicle is punishable by a fine of up to $24,000 and/or imprisonment for up to 2 years when the matter is dealt with in the Magistrates Court. Where the matter is committed to be dealt with on indictment, the offender is liable to imprisonment for up to 7 years.

Indictable offences

When stealing occurs in any of the following circumstances it carries a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment and must be dealt with on indictment:

  • Stealing from a dwelling where the thing was valued at more than $10,000 or where the offender used or threatened violence;
  • Stealing from a vessel or place of deposit used for the conveyance or custody of goods in transit;
  • Stealing from a vessel that is wrecked, stranded or in distress;
  • Stealing from within a public office;
  • Stealing that involves opening a locked room, box or other receptacle with a key or other instrument;
  • Stealing from one’s employer or where the offender comes into possession of the thing stolen through their employment where the value of the thing does not exceed $10,000.

An offence under any of the following circumstances carries a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment and therefore must be dealt with on indictment:

  • Stealing from an employer or where the offender comes into possession of the thing stolen through their employment and the value of the thing stolen exceeds $10,000.00 (Section 378(7));
  • Where the defendant is a company director or officer of a company or corporation and the thing stolen is property of the company or corporation (Section 378(8));
  • Where the thing stolen is received in accordance with a power of attorney; or
  • The thing is money that was received with a direction it should be used for a specified purpose or paid to a person specified or relates to a valuable security paid to the person; or is proceeds received under a power of attorney with specific directions as to how they should be applied (Section 378(9))

Receiving or possessing stolen goods

In Western Australia, it is a crime to receive property obtained by means of an indictable offence knowing that it was obtained in that way. A person found guilty of this crime may be given the same penalty that applies to the indictable offence by which the property was obtained, or to imprisonment for 14 years, whichever is the lesser.

To prove that a person received a thing, it is sufficient to show that they had the thing in their possession, or aided in concealing or disposing of the thing.

A person in possession of a thing capable of being stolen that is reasonably suspected to be stolen or unlawfully obtained is guilty of a crime in WA.

It is a defence to this offence if the person had no reasonable grounds for suspecting that the thing had been unlawfully obtained.

If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.

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