Damaging Property in Melbourne

Destroying or damaging property in Melbourne or elsewhere in Victoria is an offence under section 197 of the Crimes Act 1958. The penalty that applies to this offence depends on the property that is damaged and the circumstances of the offence. There are also several offences relating to property damage under the Summary Offences Act 1966.  This article outlines the elements of the various property damage offences in Victoria and the penalties that apply.

Summary offences of damaging property in Melbourne

Summary offences are minor offences that are dealt with by a magistrate in the lower courts. A person charged with this offence in Melbourne or elsewhere in Victoria will be dealt with in the Magistrates Court (if they are an adult) or in the Children’s Court (if they are under 18). If found guilty, the accused may be sentenced to a fine, a good behaviour bond, a short term of imprisonment, or another sentencing order.

Section 9 of the Summary Offences Act contains the offence of wilful destruction or damage of property under the value of $5,000. This offence is punishable by a fine of 25 penalty units or six months imprisonment.

Under section 7, a person can be found guilty of an offence if they do certain acts that tend to damage to property. These acts include throwing stones and dragging heavy material along a path or road. These offences are punishable by a fine of up to 25 penalty units or imprisonment for up to six months.

Under section 10, a person can be found guilty of an offence if they post bills or paint or write on public property without consent. This is punishable by a fine of up to 15 penalty units or imprisonment for up to three months.

Penalty units

If you are found guilty of damaging property in Melbourne you may be sentenced to a fine, which will be imposed as a number of penalty units. A penalty unit determined the amount a person pays when they are issued with a fine. It has a fixed value, which increases on an annual basis with inflation. The current value of a penalty unit can be found here.

Offences under the Crimes Act

The different types of property damage offences that can be charged under the Crimes Act are summarised below.  These offences are indictable offences, meaning they can be dealt with on indictment in the higher courts (the County Court and Supreme Court). When a criminal matter is dealt with on indictment, it commences in the Magistrates Court or Children’s Court, but is then committed to a higher court where it is finalised by way of a plea or after determination by a jury at trial.

Intentionally destroying or damaging property in Melbourne

It is an offence for a person to intentionally and without lawful excuse destroying property belonging to another or to himself. This offence can attract a penalty of up to ten years imprisonment.

Damaging property endangering life

A person who destroys or damages property with the intent of endangering the life of another is guilty of an offence. The maximum penalty for this offence is 15 years imprisonment.  

Damaging property with a view to gain

A person who dishonestly damages property with a view to gain for themselves or for others is liable to imprisonment for up to 10 years. For the purposes of this offence, a person is taken to damage property intentionally if their purpose is to destroy property or if they know or believe that their conduct is more likely than not to result in the destruction of property.

Arson

A person who commits arson is liable to up to 15 years imprisonment.

Defences

There are various defences that can be advanced in relation to a property damage charge, depending on the allegations in the individual case. These may include accident, lawful justification and sudden or extraordinary emergency.

Restitution orders

Charges of damaging property can give rise to restitution orders in addition to the sentence that is imposed. A Restitution Order requires the defendant to pay a sum of money to the victim to cover the cost of some or all of the damage caused.

Courts will generally only make a Restitution Order against a defendant who has the capacity to pay the money. A person who has a low income may be ordered to pay restitution but may be allowed to make the payment in instalments. Children will generally not have Restitution Orders made against them.

If you require legal advice or representation in relation to criminal damage in Melbourne or in any other legal matter, please contact Go To Court Lawyers.

Author

Fernanda Dahlstrom

Fernanda Dahlstrom has a Bachelor of Laws from Latrobe University, a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice from the College of Law, a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Melbourne and a Master of Arts (Writing and Literature) from Deakin University. Fernanda practised law for eight years, working in criminal defence, child protection and domestic violence law in the Northern Territory. She also practised in family law after moving to Brisbane in 2016.
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