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Shoplifting is a criminal offence that involves the act of stealing merchandise from a retail store without paying for it. It is considered a serious offence in Australia, just like in many other countries. If caught, individuals can face legal consequences, including criminal charges, fines, and even imprisonment, depending on the severity of the offence.


In Australia, the length of time after which you can be caught for shoplifting can vary. There is no specific time limit for when you can be apprehended after committing the act. Retailers and law enforcement agencies work together to prevent and detect shoplifting incidents, using various methods such as surveillance cameras, security personnel, and loss prevention strategies. It is not uncommon for individuals to be caught immediately or shortly after shoplifting, while in some cases, investigations may take longer.

What is Shoplifting?

Shoplifting refers to the act of stealing merchandise from a retail establishment without paying for it. It is a form of theft and is considered a criminal offence in many jurisdictions, including Australia. Shoplifting typically involves taking items from a store without the knowledge or consent of the retailer.


Shoplifting can take various forms, such as concealing items in clothing or bags, switching price tags, or intentionally not scanning items at self-checkout registers. It can occur in small local stores, large retail chains, supermarkets, and other types of businesses that sell goods to the public.


The motive behind shoplifting can vary. Some individuals shoplift due to financial necessity or desperation, while others may do it for thrill-seeking or personal gain. Regardless of the motive, shoplifting is illegal and can have serious consequences for those involved.


Retailers invest significant resources in preventing and deterring shoplifting incidents. They may employ security measures such as surveillance cameras, anti-theft tags or sensors on merchandise, security personnel, and trained loss prevention staff to identify and apprehend shoplifters.


According to Section 100 of the New South Wales Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002, individuals possess the lawful authority to apprehend and detain you if they have reasonable grounds to suspect you are involved in a larceny offence. This is usually known as a citizens arrest. Once detained, these individuals are obligated to hand you over, along with any possessions in your custody, to a police officer.


When apprehended by a civilian for shoplifting, it is crucial to be aware of your rights. The New South Wales (NSW) police affirm that civilians are only permitted to employ reasonable force during the detention process. Additionally, they are not legally entitled to search your person or belongings without your consent.

What is the Punishment for Shoplifting in Australia?

Shoplifting is considered a criminal offence under section 117 of the Crimes Act 1900, which is called larceny. If the goods taken are worth more than $2,000, a person can face up to 10 years of imprisonment. However, if the value of the goods is under $2,000, the maximum penalty is 2 years imprisonment.


The punishment for shoplifting in Australia depends on several factors, including the value of the stolen goods, any prior criminal record, and the circumstances surrounding the offence. In most cases, shoplifting offences are dealt with under the state or territory legislation, as theft-related offences are primarily governed by state and territory laws.


The penalties for shoplifting can vary across different jurisdictions in Australia. Generally, for lower-value shoplifting offences (typically involving goods below a certain threshold), individuals may face a fine or a relatively minor penalty. However, for more serious offences involving higher-value goods, repeat offences, or aggravating factors such as violence or use of weapons, the penalties can be more severe.

Going To Court?

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Can you go to Jail for Shoplifting in Australia?

While imprisonment is a possible punishment for shoplifting in Australia, it is typically reserved for more serious cases. Repeat offenders or individuals involved in organised retail theft may be more likely to face imprisonment. The length of imprisonment can vary depending on the circumstances, with sentences ranging from several months to several years, depending on the jurisdiction and the specific details of the case.

Defences to Larceny in NSW

Claim of Right


The police are required to demonstrate that the act of taking the property in question occurred without your sincerely believing that you had a legitimate claim of right to the property. Hence, if there is a plausible argument based on the evidence presented by the police that you genuinely believed you had a legal entitlement to take the property, or if there is supporting evidence to substantiate this belief, it may be advantageous for you to plead not guilty.


However, it is important to note that your belief must genuinely pertain to a legal entitlement to the property in question, rather than a moral entitlement. A legal entitlement would exist if you honestly believed you had a rightful ownership claim to the property.


Absence of Dishonesty in Taking the Property


Determining whether the property was taken dishonestly is a decision to be made by the tribunal, considering the prevailing standards of ordinary and morally upright individuals. Therefore, the argument surrounding the honesty or dishonesty of your actions in acquiring the item heavily relies on the circumstances specific to your case. While the intention to return the property alone cannot serve as grounds for acquittal, if it lends an appearance of honesty to your actions, it may provide a viable basis for an argument leading to acquittal.


However, it is important to note that if it is established that you initially took the property honestly but subsequently retained it fraudulently for personal use, you can be convicted of the alternate offence of fraudulent appropriation under section 124 of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW).




A person can be deemed not guilty of committing a crime if they did so out of duress. This is when they are put in a position where they have no other option due to serious threats to themselves or their family.


To use duress as a defence, three things must be proven: that the accused was threatened with death or serious injury, that a person of the same age, gender, and strength of will as the accused would have been compelled to commit the offence in the same circumstances, and that the accused was in fact placed in such a situation.

If you Plead Guilty to Shoplifting

Options available to the court in New South Wales for sentencing are governed by the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999. Most larceny and stealing matters are dealt with in the Local Court of NSW, for more serious matters the District Court of NSW is where the matter will finalise.


Section 3A of the Act outlines the general principles for sentencing, which include the following:


a) Ensuring adequate punishment for the offender.

b) Preventing crime by deterring the offender and others from similar offences.

c) Protecting the community from the offender.

d) Promoting the rehabilitation of the offender.

e) Denouncing the conduct of the offender.

f) Recognising the harm done to the victim and the community.


When imposing a sentence, the court considers various factors in addition to these principles. The sentencing options available in NSW include:


  • Section 10: This allows the court to find an accused person guilty without recording a criminal conviction. It can be accompanied by specific conditions that the offender must follow.
  • Fine: Imposing a monetary penalty on the offender.
  • CRO (Conditional Release Order): Discharging the offender with certain conditions to be fulfilled.
  • CCO (Community Correction Order): Supervising and providing rehabilitation programs to the offender in the community.
  • ICO (Intensive Correction Order): Similar to a CCO, but with more stringent conditions and supervision.
  • Full-time imprisonment: The most severe penalty, involving incarceration.

The court’s decision on the appropriate sentence depends on various factors, including the specific circumstances of the offence and the offender’s previous criminal record. In many cases, a person may receive a section 10 order, particularly if they meet certain eligibility criteria. A section 10 order can involve dismissing the charges, discharging the offender under a CRO, or requiring the offender’s participation in an intervention program.


If you are facing criminal charges in NSW, it is crucial to seek legal advice from expert criminal lawyers in Blacktown. They can provide guidance on your rights and options, helping you build a strong defence and striving for the best possible outcome in your case. Contact Lyons Law Group now.


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