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Book Index - Sentencing guidelines for handling stolen goods

Guideline judgements

The Court of Appeal has not given any formal guideline judgments in respect of

General guidelines

Because the offence of handling may occur in a wide variety of circumstances, the courts have never formulated any sentencing practice of general application in relation to the offence. In Nikodjevic [2004] VSCA 222, Ormiston JA said at [45]:

The task of sentencing, as already stated, was and is by no means easy in the present case and it would not be desirable to lay down any immutable approach for fixing appropriate terms of imprisonment in cases such as this.

However, appellate courts have made it clear that if the evidence reveals a ‘business’ decision to participate in the crime, a sentence of immediate imprisonment is an appropriate disposition. In Park 3/12/1982 CCA Vic, McGarvie J referred to the offender as typical of many handlers of stolen goods. He drew a distinction (at 6) between intelligent handlers and persons ‘deficient in maturity, in intellect or in personality adjustment’ who come before the court, and continued at 6 to 7:

When a person of this type [ie the intelligent person] embarks on the crime of handling, it is not due to any defect of mentality or personality. A decision is made in which there is weighed up the advantages and disadvantages. It is in my view very important that the Court should act in such a way that there is a real detriment built into a decision which is made as to whether or not to engage in handling of stolen goods. I think it is important that a court by its sentences should ensure that persons who make what is virtually a business decision bear in mind that the likelihood is that if they are detected they will go to prison.

In Davies 5/12/1989 CCA Vic, Young CJ said that the offence of handling by offenders who use a legitimate business to cover up the offence ‘must attract condign punishment’.

In Prokop 27/2/1987 CCA Vic, Young CJ summed up the view of the courts in these words at 16:

Those who handle stolen goods are, generally speaking, in serious danger of imprisonment, and second-hand dealers or pawnbrokers who augment their stock-in-trade in this way are especially at risk, as this Court has more than once observed.

Compelling mitigating factors pointing towards leniency may justify the imposition of a wholly suspended sentence: Wills [1999] VSCA 15. In Wills, the offender operated a motor car wrecker business. At a time when the offender was in financial trouble he purchased 21 motor vehicles he knew to be stolen. He was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of 24 months with a non-parole period of 12 months. The Victorian Court of Appeal reduced this sentence to a period of imprisonment of 19 months, wholly suspended for 3 years. The Court of Appeal held that whilst the offending was serious, factors pointing to leniency in the present case were compelling. These factors included the history of hard work and good reputation of the offender, his remorse and improbability of re-offending, his age of 49 years without prior convictions and his admissions to police in respect of stolen cars that police were unaware.

Last updated: 3 November 2005

See Also

32.7.1 - Gravity of handling stolen goods - Penalty history - Current sentencing practices