What are the Penalties for Stealing a Car or Vessel in NSW?

By Sahar Adatia and Jimmy Singh.

 

Motor vehicle theft in Australia is a serious and worrying problem.

According to the Australian Institute of Criminology, motor vehicle theft costs the Australian community approximately one billion dollars per year, while the total cost of motor vehicle theft per incident roughly costs $6,413.

Meanwhile, it is projected that across the nation, one car is stolen every ten minutes.

This week brought yet another chilling case of car theft, this time involving a man who allegedly threatened a mother and her two young children by wielding an axe and a knife in Brisbane’s north before stealing their car.

On 7 March 2019, Queensland police released CCTV footage capturing the moment the 24-year-old man approached the 35-year-old woman as she stood beside her parked car in Chermside West late in the afternoon. The woman’s children sat in the car as the incident unfolded.

According to the footage, at around 4:30pm, the young man advanced towards the family stationed at Sambar Close and produced the bladed weapons.

According to reports, he then demanded the keys from her.

The woman complied and managed to remove her children from the vehicle before the assailant stepped into the white 2008 Ford Focus hatchback, with registration 775 YNH, and drove away.

 

Police Allege Man is Related to a Series of Other Recent Incidents

Police believe the young man is related to a string of other incidents in Brisbane and Logan.

Specifically, two officers were allegedly menaced with a knife when challenging a man for stealing items from a store in Loganholme shopping centre earlier that day.

The man ended up fleeing the scene in an orange station wagon believed to be stolen from Hillcrest last Saturday, which was then driven to the Chermside West area.

Meanwhile, it is further alleged on Monday this week the same man made an advance towards an elderly couple at a home on Prospect Street in Sherwood, west of Brisbane.

He allegedly produced a knife before demanding money from them. However, the pair refused and the man took off once again in the orange station wagon which was waiting for him.

 

Man Remains on the Run

While detectives have released an image of the 24-year-old man, investigations continue as the thief remains on the run.

The man has been spotted driving dangerously at high speed and is believed to pose a danger to the public.

Police have asked for help from the public to find the man and have urged anyone with information about the man’s whereabout not to approach him but to instead contact triple zero immediately.

 

The Statistics: Car Theft in Australia

According to statistics released by Budget Direct, one of Australia’s leading car insurers, in 2017, 52,858 registered vehicles were stolen in Australia. This is the equivalent of one taken every 10 minutes.

Of these, approximately one in five cars were never recovered, while 53% of motorcycles were never recovered.

When it comes to Australia’s problem of vehicle theft, there is both good news and bad. The good news finds itself in car theft steadily declining over the past decade, significantly due to improvements in car security technology, in particular immobilisers in newer model vehicles.

On the flip side, the bad news is that thieves are still advancing when it comes to older cars, motorcycles and heavy vehicles.

The average age of stolen cars in Australia is around 11 years.  The top targets tend to be Holden Commodores, which had 4224 vehicles stolen in 2017.

 

Car Theft by City

Budget Direct also warns that the chances of having your vehicle stolen depends on where you live in Australia.

Significantly, Victorians experience the highest rates of car theft at 29%, followed by New South Wales at 23%, and Queensland at 21%.

The Northern Territory sits at only 1.9% of all car thefts, however has high rates of theft in comparison to the population size – 399 thefts per 100,000 people.

While NSW holds the second highest number of vehicle theft across the nation, when compared to the population of the state, thefts averaged only 155 per 100,000 – the lowest in the country.

The average for the nation is 215 thefts per 100,000.

The Law on Car Theft or Car Stealing Offences in NSW

There is a maximum penalty of up to 10-years imprisonment for stealing a motor vehicle or vessel in NSW under section 154F Crimes Act 1900 (NSW). This maximum penalty applies if the case is dealt with to finality in the District Court.

Under section 267 Criminal Procedure Act 1986 (NSW), this charge can be dealt with to finality in the Local Court, in which case the maximum penalty a Local Court Magistrate can impose for this offence is either a two-years jail term of $11,000 fine.

 

What Does a ‘Motor Vehicle’ Mean under the Law?

Section 154E Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) defines ‘motor vehicle’.

A ‘motor vehicle’ includes:

  • A motor that is intended to form part of (or being capable of forming part of) any such motor vehicle; or
  • A motor vehicle built to be propelled by a motor, forming part of the vehicle (section 4 Road Transport Act 2013 (NSW); or
  • Any such description of a vehicle on wheels, which includes light rail, but doesn’t include any other vehicle used on a railway or tramway; or
  • Any such description of tracked vehicles (i.e. bulldozer), or any description of vehicle that moves on revolving runners inside endless tracks, which isn’t used exclusively on a railway or tramway.

‘Vessel’ on the other hand includes a water craft of any description, used or capable of being used as a mode of transportation on water.

Before you can be found guilty of stealing a motor vehicle, the prosecution must first prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that:

  • You took it and drove (or carried) it away; and
  • The vehicle was not yours, nor were you entitled to its possession; and
  • At the time of taking and driving (or carrying) it away, you intended to permanently deprive the owner of it; and
  • You were not given consent by the owner to do this.

You will be found not guilty if the prosecution is unable to prove any one of the above elements of this crime.

You will also be found not guilty if any defence to car theft charges apply to your case. For example, it is a defence to this charge if you took and drove off with a car on the honest belief that you had a claim of legal entitlement justifying it.

Essentially, this offence of stealing is also known as larceny. For more information on this, click on our blog link here for an outline on the penalties for larceny in NSW.

A more serious version of a car theft offence is a car-jacking offence, carrying heavier penalties under section 154C(1) Crimes Act 1900 (NSW).

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