The Law on Larceny Charges

By Jimmy Singh and Tayla Regan

New technology has now been a cause for spike in shoplifting or larceny charges.

Some people would not consider it a crime to scan an expensive item as a cheap fruit in order to save some extra dollars. You’re still paying for an item right?

ANU Criminologist Emmeline Taylor says that most people do not see this as shoplifting, but more as a discount.

With the realisation of how easy it is to save money, Dr Taylor says that it almost becomes addictive for a person.

By interacting with a computer screen, and not with a person, it is much easier to convince yourself that you are not engaging in a criminal activity.

With the introduction of new technology such as self-serve checkouts (using scanners) in supermarkets, shoplifting has reportedly increased over the years. This is largely due to people being able to put expensive items through self-service checkout scanners as cheaper products.

Statistics

From January to October of last year, 6,743 occasions of shoplifting were reported. Coles spokeswoman Martine Alpins said that 2,697 of those were by offenders using the self-serve checkout.

Police operations, such as Operation Lightfingers, have been introduced to target those who take things from stores without paying for it.

When commenting on the police crackdown, Detective Superintendent Murray Chapman made it very clear that “even if it is the avocado and you think you’re saving $2, it’s still shoplifting.”

In NSW, that is the case. Shoplifting is known as a type of ‘larceny’ under the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW).

Penalties for shoplifting vary depending on the value and the type of goods that have been stolen.

Where you may have stolen goods worth a significant amount of money, or where you have stolen a small avocado, engaging in the offence may result in a criminal conviction.

QLD Mum Jailed for Self-Serve Scam

35 year old Kylie Milner, a mum from Ipswich in Queensland, received a prison sentence of 9 months which was wholly suspended for 3 years. She was also fined $150 and ordered to repay the sum of $1,545 to Coles, and $2,070 to Woolworths.

She was charged and taken to Court for scamming local supermarkets on 30 separate occasions.

Ms. Milner went as far as to photocopy barcodes from food items that were 65c and 72c. She then printed various copies of the barcodes and glued them to more expensive food items and then used the self-serve checkouts to pay a much cheaper price.

She stole items that ranged from toilet paper and meat to coffee machines and sheet sets- on a daily basis.

Ms Milner plead guilty to all charges, claiming that she committed the crimes because she was struggling financially.

News.com.au, who reported the matter, commented on the ease of shoplifting with the use of self-serve machines. It is reported that “the ‘swipe everything as carrots’ mentality” is prevalent.

Man Fined $326,000 for Self-Service Checkout Theft

More recently, it was reported that a 58 year old German business man was convicted of theft in Germany and received a fine in the sum of $A326,000.

The man has scanned certain items as inexpensive fruits when using the self-serve checkout.

He was arrested and held in jail until the hearing of his matter which occurred in December 2017.

He received the significant fine after he scanned a $A73.50 veal liver as a cheap fruit in the supermarket.

The Court in Germany calculated the amount of the fine based on his monthly income. It was held that he had committed the theft on three other occasions while having previous convictions for stealing.

Artificial Intelligence to Now Eliminate Self-Service Checkout Scams

An article released in March of this year discusses a possible new development that will ‘end the ability for customers to exploit the machines.’

Tiliter Technology, an Australian company, have designed a product that is in the process of trial at the moment. It uses a camera to identify supermarket items without the need for barcodes.

The new technology will be able to tell the difference between items in your shopping basket. With the use of a camera, products will be identified and automatically entered into the self-serve computer. People will then not be able to pass off the more expensive items as cheaper once (by using the cheaper barcode stickers on the more expensive items).

The camera technology uses artificial intelligence which will remove the need for barcodes. It will also remove the need for entering information in order to make purchases of items.

This will also benefit customers who will no longer need to “Search through menus trying to identify the items they are purchasing”.

The Australian company claims that the product was created with the aim to reduce the criminal act of shoplifting which has been creating a significant loss for supermarkets.

The new product currently in the process of trial, has been claimed to be ‘a godsend in the battle against theft’.

Police Crackdown

As mentioned, police operations have formed in an aim to minimise shoplifting that occurs regularly in our local supermarkets.

During a 5 day police blitz in 2014, 110 people were arrested and charged, with approximately $9,300 worth of stolen goods discovered.

Among those arrested, it was reported that 34 people were issued with a court attendance notice, 60 received criminal infringement notices, with a few warnings and youth cautions issued.

In 2016, Superintendent Murray Chapman released comments to the press expressing concerns of the normalisation to steal from self-serve checkouts in supermarkets.

He also referred to the consequences that can follow from the charge, including a mark against your criminal history, preventing future employment opportunities and preventing overseas travel.

The law on shoplifting

Stealing products or other items from supermarkets through self-serve checkouts is classified as a type of larceny in NSW.

What is Larceny?

To be guilty of the offence of larceny, the police must prove that you:

  • Took and carried away something i.e. an item or money; and
  • That item or money belonged to someone else; and
  • When you took it away, you intended to keep it; and
  • The owner didn’t consent for you to take it.

What are the penalties of larceny?

It’s important to understand that the courts only give the maximum penalties to the most serious offenders of larceny, often who are repeat offenders.

The maximum penalty for committing larceny in NSW under section 117 Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) in the local court are as follows:

  • If the value of the item or money stolen is more than $5,000: 2 years imprisonment, and/or fine of up to $5,500.
  • If the value of the item or money stolen is less than $5,000: 1 year imprisonment, and/or a fine of up to $5,500.
  • If the value of the item or money stolen is less than $2,000: 1 year imprisonment, and/or a fine of up to $2,200.

Sometimes the case can be heard in the District Court instead of the Local Court. However, normally larceny charges are heard and finalised in the Local Court.

If your larceny charge is heard in the District Court (where the DPP elect), the maximum penalty the court can impose is a term of 5 years imprisonment.

Shoplifting or theft is considered larceny

The taking of an item from a supermarket without paying for it is considered a larceny offence. The penalty you receive will depend on the value of the item that you stole.

If you steal an item worth less than $300, police have the option to issue you with a Criminal Infringement Notice instead of taking you to Court (by issuing you with a Court Attendance Notice). Regardless of the amount you stole, you will be required to pay the $300.

A Criminal Infringement Notice is the better alternative for a person caught shoplifting items worth less than $300. This is because it will not result in a criminal record or conviction against your name.

If police decide instead to take you to court (by issuing you with a court attendance notice for larceny or stealing), you will be required to face court. Where you face court, the Magistrate will then deal with your case by giving you either a criminal conviction or a non-conviction on a plea of guilty.

Character reference template for court is a useful tool to use in preparing for sentencing for larceny charges.

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