Grand larceny means theft of property of a value greater than that fixed as constituting petit larceny. Petit larceny usually involves property that has a value above a legally specified amount (for instance, $600). This offence is found in many US states’ legislation. Petty theft, common theft, and grand larceny are American offences.
The American offences of petty theft, common theft, and grand larceny are differentiated by the value of the property stolen. But what about in Australia? In NSW, the one offence of larceny covers all the conduct contained in the three American offences. This article discusses grand larceny under Australian Law, specifically in New South Wales (NSW).
Definition of Grand Larceny
Grand Larceny means the crime of theft of another’s property (including money) over a certain value. In the United States (US), grand larceny is defined as being the theft of property of which the value is over a specified figure. This specified figure varies from state to state; however, the minimum value usually ranges from $500-$2000. In some states, grand larceny may be called grand theft, as is the case in California. This offence exists in many US states and formerly in Britain.
Grand Larceny in NSW
The common law offence of grand larceny does not exist in Australia. But although grand larceny does not exist in Australia, NSW does have the offence of larceny.
NSW legislation defines larceny as stealing or theft. It is simply an offence that involves theft, which relates to property being taken without the consent of the owner, regardless of the value.
Unlike the US, larceny of any value is to be dealt with in the same manner, unless otherwise specified by legislation. A person convicted of larceny can face a maximum penalty of up to five years’ imprisonment.
The Definition of Larceny Under Australian Law
Larceny offences are found in Section 117 of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW), which provides “whosoever commits larceny, or any indictable offence by this Act made punishable like larceny, shall, except in the cases hereinafter otherwise provided for, be liable to imprisonment for five years.”
The definition of larceny is not limited to what the Crimes Act contains. The High Court provides the meaning of larceny in Ilich v R (1987) HCA 1. The Court said that “larceny is committed by a person who, without the consent of the owner, fraudulently and without a claim of right made in good faith, takes and carries away anything capable of being stolen with intent, at the time of such taking, permanently to deprive the owner thereof.”
Elements to Prove in a Charge of Larceny
Larceny involves physical and mental elements. For a charge of larceny to be sustained, the prosecution must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, the following:
The Physical Elements of Larceny
- The accused took and carried away property capable of being stolen
Section 4 of the Crimes Act 1900 defines property as every description of real and personal property; money, valuable securities, debts and legacies, and all deed and instruments relating to, or evidencing the title or right to any property.
Even the slightest movement can be enough for a charge of larceny. Additionally, even the slightest value will be sufficient for a larceny charge. It is not like grand larceny where the value is taken into consideration before a charge is sustained.
- The stolen property belonged to another
A person cannot be charged with larceny if the property does not belong to someone. Thus, abandoned property cannot be the subject of larceny. Abandonment occurs when the owner has intentionally given up any interest in the property.
- The accused took the property without the consent of the owner
The property must have been taken without the consent or permission of the owner.
The Mental Elements of Larceny
- The intention of permanently depriving the owner
To commit larceny, the person must, at the time of taking, intend to deprive the owner of the property permanently. It is worth noting, however, that Section 118 of the Crimes Act 1900 provides that intent to return property is not a defence.However, the matter is determined on a case-to-case basis. For instance, borrowing a pen at the counter without asking would not amount to larceny under the law.
- No claim of right
A person cannot be guilty or plead guilty of larceny if they believe that the property belongs to them. A claim of right means that the person has an honest and genuine belief that they have a legal entitlement to the property.
The belief should not come from wishful thinking, but it is not required to be reasonable either. So long as that person genuinely believes they have a legal claim to the property, they have a “claim of right”. Thus, if no claim of right exists, a person can be charged with larceny.
- The property was taken fraudulently or dishonestly.
For a larceny charge to be sustained, the taking of the property must be done “fraudulently” or “dishonestly.” The Court must specifically identify the knowledge, belief or intention that accompanied the alleged larceny and decide whether it was dishonest or fraudulent according to the standard of “ordinary, decent people”.
An example of this element is where a person mistakenly took and carried away another person’s suitcase at the airport, thinking it was theirs. If it is proved that the taking was done as an honest mistake, the accused could not be charged with larceny. However, it could be larceny if the person later becomes aware of the mistake and chooses not to rectify it.
What Is the Maximum Penalty for Larceny?
The maximum penalty for Larceny is five years’ imprisonment. However, if the Local Court hears the matter, the penalties available are subject to limitations based on the value of the stolen property. The maximum penalty for this crime includes:
- More than $5,000 AUD (value of stolen item). Two years’ imprisonment and/or 100 penalty units and a fine of $11,000 AUD.
- Less than $5,000 AUD (value of stolen item). Two years’ imprisonment and/or 50 penalty units and a fine of $5,500 AUD.
- Less than $2,000 AUD (value of stolen item). Two years’ imprisonment and/or 20 penalty units and a fine of $2,200 AUD.
If the matter is heard on indictment in the District Court, there is no jurisdictional limitation on the maximum penalty.
Note that the value involved is a jurisdictional limit and does not involve whether or not a charge for larceny can be sustained. A person can be charged with larceny regardless of the value of the property stolen.
Seeking Legal Advice
If a person has agreed that they have committed the offence (and the police are able to prove so), pleading guilty is the best option. This way the person will normally receive a discount on their sentence, and it will demonstrate remorse and contrition. However, if you have been charged with a larceny offence, but you believe you are not guilty of the offence, we highly advise you to seek legal services.
JB Solicitors has a leading team of experienced lawyers in Criminal Law. We have dealt with numerous criminal law cases and can help with your situation. We offer legal advice and legal representation should the matter escalate to the Courts.
Do you have more queries on grand larceny? Contact us today.