This article aims to help you decipher the theft sentencing guidelines and break down the jargon to give you a realistic picture of the possible outcomes that could occur in your case. The article explores the current theft sentencing guidelines, including the applicable guidelines for identity theft, robbery and burglary, and whether these differ from the sentencing guidelines for theft. It also examines the maximum sentence for theft, what will happen at court, and the evidence that the prosecution will rely upon in order to secure a conviction.
The current theft sentencing guidelines have been in place since 2016. The possible sentences include a custodial sentence, a community order, or a fine depending on the seriousness of the theft. The guidelines set out two key matters that the court should take into account when determining the sentence that the defendant should receive: the defendant’s level of culpability (blameworthiness) and the level of harm caused by the theft.
Factors that indicate high culpability include the defendant playing a leading role in a group activity, and them persuading, intimidating, coercing or exploiting others in order to involve them in the theft. A person who has breached a high degree of trust or responsibility, such as a banker or solicitor, would also attract higher culpability. A defendant who carried out a crime under the influence of another person or with limited understanding of the offence would be perceived as being less culpable by the court.
Factors that suggest that the defendant caused a large degree of harm include if the items stolen were of substantial financial value or otherwise of significant value to the victim. The court will also consider the level of fear, loss of confidence, inconvenience, and emotional harm caused to the victim by the theft.
The court will balance the level of harm caused and the level of culpability in order to calculate an appropriate sentence. For example, a defendant who played a leading role in a premeditated theft of over £10,000 is likely to receive a custodial sentence of at least 3.5 years. By contrast, a defendant who acted spontaneously to steal a bottle of perfume to give as a Christmas present from their local pharmacy is likely to receive a high level community order or a fine.
Where multiple offences have been committed, the court may be justified in giving consecutive sentences (sentences that run one after the other). This could mean that five convictions each with a sentence of 12 months’ imprisonment could result in five years’ imprisonment. The full sentencing guidelines can be found here.
The maximum sentence for theft is 7 years’ imprisonment, but such a severe sentence would only be given in very serious cases. For example, a high value theft conducted in a pre-meditated manner by organised criminals could attract a sentence of this severity.
In most cases, shorter sentences are given. The most lenient sentence that you could face is a discharge. This is where the court finds you guilty but does not allocate a sentence. This is most likely to occur where there are strong mitigating circumstances present. For example, a first-time offending mother who shoplifts food in order to feed her children is likely to receive a discharge.
Identity theft is considered to be a form of fraud. As such, a court would consider sentencing guidelines for fraud rather than sentencing guidelines for theft when deciding the sentence for this offence.
The law setting out the crime of identity theft is the Fraud Act 2006, which at Section 2 sets out the crime of fraud by false representation. This offence relates to the defendant making a representation that the defendant knows to be untrue or misleading, which would include dishonestly assuming another person’s identity. In general, sentencing for fraud by false representation is more severe than for theft. The maximum sentence for fraud by false representation is 10 years’ imprisonment. More information on sentencing for fraud by false representation can be found here.
The sentencing guidelines for robbery are different to those for theft. Robbery is considered to be a more serious offence than theft, because it often involves an element of shock, fear, violence, and/or personal injury to the victim. Therefore, the sentencing for robbery tends to be heavier than for theft because it takes these factors into account, as well as the value of the items that were taken. The maximum sentence for robbery is life imprisonment. The full sentencing guidelines for robbery can be found here.
Burglary is generally considered to be a more dangerous and serious offence than theft, and accordingly it has different sentencing guidelines. The sentencing guidelines for burglary can be found here. Unlike theft, as well as the loss to the victim, the sentencing guidelines for burglary also consider the degree of fear and emotional and physical injury caused to the victim. The maximum sentence for burglary is 10 years’ imprisonment. The maximum sentence for aggravated burglary, where the defendant was carrying a weapon at the time of the offence, is life imprisonment.
Initially, you will appear in the Magistrates’ Court where the charge against you will be read out. You will then attend another hearing to decide in which court your case will be heard. If you have been charged with a low value shop-lifting case, your case will be heard in the Magistrates’ Court. Otherwise, you will have the opportunity to indicate whether you want your case to be heard in the Magistrates’ Court or the Crown Court.
Your experience when you go to trial for theft will depend on whether your case is heard in the Magistrates’ Court or in the Crown Court. If you are in the Crown Court, at the trial, a jury will be present to make a judgment on your case, whereas if you are in the Magistrates’ Court, your case will be decided by the magistrate him or herself. Either way, it is the prosecution’s job to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed the theft of which you have been accused.
The prosecution will make their case first. They will set out their case against you and produce evidence to support it. Your defence barrister will have the opportunity to cross-examine the prosecution’s witnesses in order to ask them questions. After that, the defence will make their case. It is very likely that you, as the defendant, will be called by both the prosecution and the defence, and asked questions.
Your criminal defence team will be there to help advise you of your options. You may be advancing a defence, or, if the evidence against you is weak, you may exercise the right to remain silent. On some occasions, if the prosecution’s case appears to be extremely weak, the defence may make a submission of ‘no case to answer’. This is an argument to the court that, on the basis of the prosecution’s case, it would be not be possible to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
After all the evidence has been heard, both the prosecution and the defence will have an opportunity to make closing speeches. Then, if the case is in the Crown Court, the judge will sum up the evidence and give directions to the jury, who will go off to consider their verdict and then return with a finding of guilty or not guilty.
When considering a case of theft, the court will hear evidence in relation to the item or items that have allegedly been stolen, their rightful owner and their current whereabouts. Say, for example, the case relates to a stolen television, the court will consider the make and model of the television, the value of it, and to whom it belongs. If the owner is no longer in possession of the television, the court will consider in whose possession the television was at the time when it was seized by police. The court will also consider evidence in respect of your whereabouts at the time of the theft, and how you were alleged to be involved in the theft. This could include witness testimony from your alibis, CCTV footage, and forensic evidence, such as fingerprints.
If you have been charged with theft, make sure that you seek legal advice without delay. Instructing an experienced criminal defence solicitor could help you to avoid a conviction, or, if you are convicted, a successful plea for mitigation could significantly reduce the sentence that you are given. At Stuart Miller Solicitors, we are ready to assist you today. Our friendly and helpful team of criminal defence solicitors will provide you with robust advice on your case, and the sentence that you could face if you are convicted. Get in touch for a consultation.