Theft takes place where someone takes possession of something fraudulently or otherwise “without colour of right” (s. 322(1) Criminal Code of Canada), with the intent in doing so. Someone can also be found guilty of possession of stolen property where, by act or omission, a person takes possession of something which was obtained by the commission of a crime (s. 354(1), Criminal Code).
Where the stolen property is a motor vehicle, someone would be criminally liable where they take possession of a car where the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) is partially or fully scratched off, for example. In essence, the crime of theft requires that someone takes possession of something,
or takes steps in order to move, or eventually convert the object in a manner which is fraudulent. It must be proven that there was intent to take possession or move the object so that it may transfer possession illegally.
Shoplifting / Theft under $5,000
In reference to Section 334(b) of the Criminal Code of Canada, everyone who commits theft where the value of what is stolen does not exceed $5,000, is guilty of an offence which is punishable on summary conviction.
A very common example of this is where a shoplifter possesses or moves an item from a store, perhaps hiding it in their bag or jacket, and upon detainment is not found to have the money to pay for the item or otherwise no intent to legally obtain the item. This may also take place where a shoplifter moves an item beyond the boundaries where a sale would take place, for example they move it outside of a store without taking legal possession of the object, unless they were given permission to do so.
In most cases, those who commit retail theft or shoplifting will be faced with a variety of sentencing orders, such as probation with a condition to not return to the establishment where the theft occurred, pay a fine, complete a program designed to prevent further theft. There is the possibility for a diversion program if the offense is minor, and thus it is important to seek counsel even when dealing with a minor theft charge because of the ability of a lawyer to highlight any mitigating factors and resolve the charge in the best way possible.
Theft over $5,000
Although it is rather rare that someone commits a crime of theft in stealing property which is valued at over $5,000, the most common example is that of embezzlement, stealing from an employer / breach of trust but also many car thefts fall into this category.
Anyone who commits a theft where the value of the property is valued at more than $5,000 will be charged with an indictable offence which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment (s. 334(a), Criminal Code). There are certain cases which may result in an indictable offence with a maximum sentence of 2 years, such as those with special provisions for punishment.
The way this charge will be pursued is contingent on a variety of factors regarding who the offender is, the characteristics of the offence, whether there has been an effort to provide restitution, for example.
Because a theft over $5,000 charge carries with it a potentially very serious outcome, it is very important to consult a criminal lawyer that has experience with this type of charge in order to best analyze factors which may mitigate the potential sentence for this offence.
Motor Vehicle Theft / Possession of Stolen Motor Vehicle
Motor vehicle theft is similar to theft over $5,000 in that it carries with it a similar penalty. Someone who steals a motor vehicle, is guilty of an indictable offence and is liable to a maximum of 10 years imprisonment (s. 331.1(a), Criminal Code); or on summary conviction, to a maximum of 18 months imprisonment (s. 331.1(1)b), Criminal Code). Theft of a motor vehicle or vessel is unique because it does not require a valuation of the vehicle in order to determine the penalty structure. This crime contrasts with joyriding, for example, as someone who steals a motor vehicle does so with the intent of taking either temporary or permanent possession of the vehicle. The resemblance between this and theft over $5,000 provides discretion of arresting officer to choose which charge to lay.
In the case of joyriding which is outlined in section 335 of the Criminal Code of Canada, someone takes a motor vehicle with the intent to drive, use or operate it and ultimately return it to the owner. This crime also applies to those who are occupying but not driving the vehicle, with reason to believe that the driver has taken unlawful possession of the vehicle. There exists an exception where an occupant learns that the driver has taken the vehicle without consent of its owner, and they left or attempted to leave the motor vehicle (s. 335(1.1)(1), Criminal Code). Those who are found guilty under section 335 of the Criminal Code are punishable on summary conviction.
Handling your charge
There are a variety of possible defences and mitigating circumstances when facing a charge for a theft-related offence. Although many types of theft carry with them potentially lengthy terms of imprisonment, there are often ways to improve your outlook when resolving your charge. Only an experienced criminal defence lawyer will be able to evaluate factors that might prevent a finding of guilt when dealing directly with Crown prosecution in order to help you make the decision that is right for you. Often it is a good idea to show cooperation or an attempt to make restitution.