Your Guide to Theft Charges by Theft Lawyers in Victoria
Table of Contents
- What is Theft?
- Investigation of Theft Charges in Victoria
- Bail Process and Conditions for Theft Charges in Victoria
- Penalties for Theft Charges in Victoria
- Defending Theft Charges in Victoria
- What Next?
- Theft FAQs
What is Theft?
Theft is a type of non-violent property offence that covers a variety of illegal acts, including shoplifting and taking the personal property of a friend, family member, or stranger without their consent.
The relevant provision for theft in the Criminal Code of Canada is:
According to the Code, a person commits theft when they take something that belongs to another person with the intent to temporarily or permanently deprive them of that good.
Theft is generally divided into two categories:
- Theft in an amount exceeding $5,000,
- Theft in an amount at or less than $5,000.
In order to be found guilty of theft in Canada, the Crown Prosecutor will be required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt each of the following elements:
- You moved something, caused something to be moved, or began to move something that belonged to someone else;
- You moved the property with intent to steal it either temporarily or absolutely without the owner’s consent; and
- The approximate value of the property you tried to steal.
Other common variations of this type of offence include Possession of Stolen Property and Motor Vehicle Theft. If the theft involves violence or the threat of violence, you may be charged with Robbery.
Investigation of Theft Charges in Victoria
An investigation of an allegation of theft in Victoria is typically initiated by a complaint from a witness. This may be the alleged victim who claims that their personal property was taken without their consent, or it may be someone who claims to have witnessed the theft as it was taking place, such as a Loss Prevention Officer (e.g. security guard) at a store. The local Victoria, Saanich, or Oak Bay police will attend the scene and request a written statement from the alleged victim and any other witnesses, and will then launch an investigation.
The vast majority of theft investigations occur quickly. The alleged perpetrator may even be present at the scene and in the custody of a Loss Prevention Officer when the police arrive, which is often the case in shoplifting investigations. However, if the perpetrator of the theft is not present, the police may attempt to access security footage or other records to identify who committed the offence.
After the police have gathered their evidence, they will arrest you if they believe you are the perpetrator. If you are not present at the scene, they will track you down or issue a warrant for your arrest. Police may then decide to charge you immediately, or they may transport you to the Police District Office for further questioning and processing, before deciding whether or not to lay charges.
After you have been charged with theft, police will provide a package with all the evidence they collected, known as the “disclosure package” or “particulars,” to the Crown Prosecutor. You will have the right to access this disclosure package to see the evidence against you. Once you retain one of our lawyers, we will assist you in obtaining the disclosure package, and we will review it with you to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the Crown’s case, as well as any legal defences that may be available to you.
Bail Process and Conditions for Theft Charges in Victoria
How do I get myself or a loved one out on bail for theft charges in Victoria?
If you have been charged with theft, it is not uncommon for police to release you at the scene on a release order. Police will provide you with a document outlining your charges, and any required appearances you must make. This document may also include conditions that you are required to follow while on release (such as not attending the location where the theft occurred).
A formal bail hearing may be required to secure your release, particularly if you have a criminal record or if the theft allegations are more serious. The bail hearing must be held within 24 hours, a period that starts from the moment of arrest or detention rather than the time when you are brought to the district office or Courthouse.
On a weekday, in order to conduct a bail hearing, you will be transferred from the district office to the Victoria Courthouse. The address of the Courthouse is as follows:
850 Burdett Ave
Victoria, BC V8W 1B4
If you are arrested after approximately 3 p.m., you will be held at the detachment until the following morning, at which time you will be transported to the Courthouse for your bail hearing, which will be conducted in front of a Provincial Court Judge.
If you are arrested on Friday after approximately 3 p.m., or if you are arrested on a weekend, your bail hearing will be conducted at the detachment via telephone with a Justice of the Peace from the Justice Centre.
Loved ones are not able to contact you while you are detained. The police will not release any information to friends or family due to privacy laws. Your lawyer is the only person allowed to contact you. Once the police have verified your lawyer’s details, they will pass on information about your whereabouts, if requested.
Because of these difficulties while you are held in custody, it is best to appoint a competent defence lawyer as soon as possible to manage the legal processes and communicate with loved ones. After an arrest, the police must provide you with the opportunity to call a lawyer in private and, if that happens, stop questioning you.
Once you retain one of our experienced criminal defence lawyers, we will begin working to secure your release on bail. We will immediately do the following:
- Call in to the district office where you are being held, or the Victoria Courthouse if you have been transported, and speak to you.
- Contact the prosecutor assigned to the bail hearing to start negotiating your release.
- Order and secure a copy of the police information package that details the allegations against you in advance of the bail hearing. This allows the lawyer to make meaningful representations to the court about why you should be released on bail.
- Conduct either an in-person or teleconference bail hearing to secure your release.
When you attend your bail hearing, the Judge or Justice of the Peace will consider the following factors:
- Is detention necessary to secure your attendance in court?
- Is detention necessary to protect the public from a substantial risk of re-offence?
- Is detention necessary in all the circumstances to maintain confidence in the administration of justice?
Although it is unlikely that you will be denied bail for this type of charge, tight restrictions may nevertheless be applied to your release. Rest assured, we will work to not only secure your release but also to ensure the least restrictive set of bail conditions (including the minimum cash deposit).
In order for our lawyers to secure less stringent conditions, the Judge will need to be satisfied that you will attend court as required and that you pose no significant risk of harm to the public.
Our lawyers are often successful at persuading the Crown Prosecutor in charge of bail to let our clients out. If we cannot convince the Prosecutor, we can conduct a formal bail hearing and work to convince the Court. Even if you are ultimately detained, we can appeal that decision on very short notice through a bail review, which is conducted at the Supreme Court of British Columbia.
Where can I pay for bail for theft charges in Victoria?
If you or a loved one is charged with theft in Victoria and granted bail, you may be required to provide a cash deposit to secure release. You can pay for bail at any court registry (courthouse) in British Columbia. If you live in Vancouver, you can pay bail there for someone detained in Victoria.
The Victoria court registry is open from 8:30 – 4:30, Monday to Friday. The contact details of the registry office at the Victoria Courthouse are as follows:
850 Burdett Ave
Victoria, BC V8W 1B4
To pay your own bail, you can make a payment after your hearing, assuming you have sufficient funds with you to do so.
How do I change my release conditions for theft charges in Victoria?
Release on bail with theft charges may include restrictions that impact your day-to-day life. This could include conditions to refrain from:
- Interacting with any alleged victim,
- Attending the location where the theft took place,
- Breaking any laws,
- Using drugs or alcohol,
- Leaving your house (i.e. house arrest),
- Staying out beyond a certain time (i.e. curfew),
- Travelling to other provinces or countries,
- Using certain modes of transportation (i.e. being in a motor vehicle without the registered owner), and/or
- Possessing weapons or firearms.
The Judge can also impose some additional conditions, such as:
- Residing where approved,
- Reporting to probation,
- Attending counselling, and/or
- Maintaining or seeking employment.
A variety of factors will be considered when determining your precise restrictions, including:
- Your criminal history,
- Your physical and mental condition,
- The nature of the alleged theft,
- The likelihood that you will flee,
- Your history of drug/alcohol usage,
- Whether you have stable employment,
- Whether you have stable living arrangements, and
- Whether you have ties to the community.
If you have already been released, at least for the short term, it is critical that you make arrangements to abide by your conditions until they can be changed. Breaching the terms of your release can result in further charges or a revocation of your bail, as well as a forfeiture of any cash paid to secure your release. It is important to take these conditions seriously.
Once the matter is in court, we can work with the Crown Prosecutor to alter your conditions. This includes either adding exceptions to some of the conditions or eliminating them altogether.
If your court date is far away and you cannot wait until then, we can arrange to have the matter dealt with sooner. Our first priority is always to stabilize your release conditions. That way, you will not feel pressured to plead guilty because of the restrictive terms of your release. Once the conditions are manageable and minimally intrusive to your daily routine, we can focus 100% of our attention on defending the case.
Penalties for Theft Charges in Victoria
Because a multitude of acts fall under the offence of theft, there is a wide range of potential penalties if you are found guilty. They can range anywhere from a discharge (i.e. no criminal conviction), to a fine and/or probation, to a period of jail time. In certain circumstances, it is also possible to be admitted into extrajudicial alternative measure programs, where counselling or community service may be completed in lieu of prosecution.
The Criminal Code of Canada outlines the maximum allowable punishment for theft as follows:
- For theft in an amount over $5,000: not more than 10 years’ jail time,
- For theft in an amount at or under $5,000: not more than 2 years’ jail time.
The range of potential sentences available to you will depend on a variety of factors, including:
- The context of the offending conduct,
- The amount that was taken,
- The relationship between you and the victim of the theft,
- Your criminal history, and
- Other applicable personal factors.
Aspects of your life such as depression, gambling addiction, substance abuse and acute financial distress can influence your sentence.
Two of the most significant factors that could increase the likelihood and length of jail time are:
- If the theft was over $5,000; and
- If the theft occurred in the course of employment, or another trust-based relationship.
In addition to the penalties above, a conviction for theft, even of a small amount, can have wide-ranging negative consequences on your future. Theft is considered a “crime of dishonesty.” A conviction, therefore, will affect your reputation in your community. Potential employers may refuse or terminate your employment if their business involves handling money or the use of valuable property. Your friends, family and peers may view you as unworthy of their trust.
Even if you intend on accepting responsibility for this type of offence, it is worthwhile to explore your options and consider all the possible penalties. Often, good representation can result in no criminal record. Furthermore, a community-based sentence may be obtained even where the Crown is seeking jail time.
Rest assured, our lawyers will work hard to defend you so that you are not saddled with the consequences that stem from a criminal conviction for theft. In fact, we can canvass a range of sentencing options with the Prosecutors that will either leave you with no criminal record or impose minimal restrictions on your liberty after sentencing. To learn more about potential non-criminal resolutions, please visit our Resolutions page, or read our FAQ on resolutions and other sentencing options.
Defending Theft Charges in Victoria
What are the best defences to theft charges in Victoria?
In theft cases, the defences that may be available to you depend on the facts of your case. In general, the best defences for theft are:
- Factual Innocence: This is usually the strongest defence because the facts and the evidence do not support you being there, causing the theft, or other basic elements of the offence. This could include:
No mental intent: A common defence available in theft cases is that you did not intend to take the property. A basic example would be if you accidentally walked out of a store with an item you did not pay for.
You owned the property:You cannot steal what belongs to you. Therefore, if you are able to establish that you had a proprietary or possessory interest in the item, you may be able to defend yourself against the charges. Documents proving ownership of the property will likely be of significant assistance in raising this defence. However, even if you have a proprietary or possessory right in the good, if you take it from another person by fraudulent means, you could still be charged with theft in certain circumstances. For example, you could not use the proprietary interest you have in your vehicle to steal it from an impound lot without paying the fee.
Identity:In some circumstances where the offence was not recorded by surveillance footage, or the footage is poor quality, you may be able to raise an identity defence. For example, authorities could have made a mistake in identifying you as the perpetrator based on the poor quality of the footage. In order to effectively raise this defence, you may need corroborative evidence, such as an alibi to where you were at the time of the offence.
- Violation of Constitutional Rights: The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms sets out your rights before and after your arrest. If the police fail to abide by these rights, it could aid in your defence.
- “Colour of Right”: This defence may arise when you honestly believed you had a lawful right to property, when in reality you did not. For example, if you took your friend’s car with the honest but mistaken belief that he was lending it to you, even though he was not. In order to raise this defence, you will need to establish a factual basis to show that you honestly and reasonably believed in this particular state of affairs.
The Crown is required to prove that you not only took property that was not lawfully yours, but that you intended to take that property. While the Crown must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed the offence, you may bear some responsibility in raising certain defences at trial.
The availability and strength of any defence depends entirely on the specific facts of your case. Our lawyers have significant experience assessing the availability and strengths of potential defences in theft cases, as well as presenting any and all available defences to the Court at trial. Even if you believe that you will be found guilty, it is important that you obtain a legal opinion about the defences that may be available to you.
How can I help defend theft charges in Victoria?
If you have been charged with theft in Victoria, the following can help your lawyer build a strong defence:
- Provide your lawyer with a statement about what happened;
- Collect and maintain all documents and records about the event;
- Gather a list of witnesses that may support your version of events; and
- Log any relevant texts, emails, phone calls or photographic evidence.
What information is relevant will depend on the facts in your case. As soon as you are released on bail, you should start to gather any information that may be of use to your lawyer. If you are uncertain what information may be relevant, you should contact one of our lawyers immediately to create a plan of action for gathering information.
If you are truly proactive about the matter, consider doing the following:
- Secure proof of employment;
- Secure reference letters;
- Enroll in counselling (anger management/substance abuse/parenting);
- Secure a record of prescriptions; and
- Secure a record of any mental health conditions you suffer from.
These steps can be very helpful for building an effective defence (or convincing the Prosecutor to drop the charges altogether).
What can a lawyer do to help me defend against theft charges in Victoria?
As we start preparing your defence by examining police actions and the evidence against you, there are certain defence strategies that can be used to aid your cause, including:
- Assembling documents, photographs, texts, etc. that contradict the allegation and support your defence;
- Gathering evidence from witnesses that support your version of events;
- Identifying mistakes in the actions of the police, such as Charter breaches;
- Uncovering administrative/systemic errors, such as “Jordan delay,” non-disclosure, lost or destroyed evidence, etc.; and
Finding weaknesses or “holes” in the Crown’s case that may make it difficult or Impossible for them to establish the elements of the offence.
Theft cases cover a vast amount of ground and are very fact-specific. We have tried our best to provide a general outline of what you can expect if you find yourself in this situation, but this is just the tip of the iceberg.
To learn more about how we can help, please contact our team of Theft Lawyers. We will conduct a thorough review of your situation and tailor a precise strategy that targets your successful defence.