Property Damage (SA)
In South Australia, the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 and the Summary Offences Act 1953 both contain offences involving unlawful property damage. The most serious of these are major indictable offences. This page outlines each of these offences.
Arson and other property damage
Section 85 of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 governs the offences of arson and property damage.
A person is guilty of arson if they unlawfully damage a building or motor vehicle using fire or explosives with the intent of damaging property or being recklessly indifferent to whether their actions will do so. In South Australia, arson carries a maximum penalty of imprisonment for life.
A person is guilty of property damage if they unlawfully damage another’s property with the intent of damaging property or being recklessly indifferent to whether their actions damage property. In South Australia, this offence carries a maximum penalty of ten years imprisonment.
A person who threatens to damage another person’s property is guilty of an offence punishable by up to five years imprisonment.
Recklessly endangering property
Section 85A of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 makes it an offence to do an act knowing that it poses a substantial risk of serious damage to the property of another. The maximum penalty for this offence is imprisonment for six years.
Possessing object with intent to damage property
Section 86 of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 governs the offence of possessing an object with the intent to damage property.
A person is guilty of this offence if they possess an object with the intention to use it to damage the property of another person without lawful authority. This offence is punishable by up to two years imprisonment.
Playing games so as to damage property
The only offence in the Summary Offences Act that relates to property damage is the offence of playing games so as to cause damage, which is contained in section 53. Under that provision, a person commits an offence if they play a game in a public place or adjacent to a public place in a way that is likely to injure persons or damage property. This is punishable by a fine only. The maximum fine if $250.
What is property?
Under the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935, property is defined as including real and personal property and includes wild animals that are ordinarily held in captivity.
In South Australia, criminal offences are categorised as summary offences, minor indictable offences or major indictable offences.
Minor indictable offences can be finalised by a magistrate with the consent of the defence; in other cases, they are finalised in a higher court. They carry a maximum penalty of no more than five years imprisonment.
All other indictable offences are major indictable offences, which can only be finalised in the higher courts.
Possessing object with intent to damage property is a minor indictable offence and may be finalised in the lower courts if the accused agrees to this.
The offence of playing games so as to damage property is a summary offence and is dealt with in the lower courts.
Pleading guilty to property damage
If you have been charged with one of these offences in South Australia, there are a number of things you should consider before pleading guilty.
Firstly, you should obtain the brief of evidence. This is a copy of all the evidence that the prosecution intends to rely on against you. You should go through the brief with your lawyer and assess the strength of the prosecution case and whether every element of the offence can be proven.
Secondly, you should seek legal advice as to the likely penalty range in your situation. This will depend on the circumstances of the offence, your personal circumstances, the value of the property damaged, your criminal history.
Thirdly, you should consider whether there is any supporting material that you need to gather to tender in court. This may include character references, medical or psychological reports, or evidence of any steps you have taken to address the causes of your offending.
Pleading not guilty
If you have been charged with an offence and want to plead not guilty, you should consider the following.
Firstly, is there a legal defence that applies? For instance, did you have a lawful excuse for acting as you did or were you responding to an emergency situation?
Secondly, are there weaknesses in the prosecution case? This may include inconsistencies between witness statements or a difficulty identifying the offender.
Finally, is any of the prosecution evidence challengeable? If there are issues of admissibility with any of the evidence, you may need to run a voir dire prior to your hearing and have the court make a determination as to whether the evidence should be admitted or not.
If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Go To Court Lawyers.