In a recent article written by the Straits Time, a National Technological University (NTU) professor, Er Meng Joo pleaded guilty to two counts of shoplifting with five other similar theft charges taken into consideration during the sentencing.
According to the article, the full time professor admitted to stealing items such as air fresheners and toiletries worth an estimate of $225.15 from various locations.
“A thief is a thief, whether he steals a diamond or a cucumber”
– Indian Proverb
So what is theft? These are the some of the things you need to know about theft.
According to Section 378 of the Penal Code (Cap 224), theft is defined as:
378. Whoever, intending to take dishonestly any movable property out of the possession of any person without that person’s consent, moves that property in order to such taking, is said to commit theft.
Pursuant the Penal Code definition of theft, we can see that ‘dishonesty’ is a clear cornerstone of the offence (see Section 23 and Section 24, Penal Code for the definition of dishonesty, wrongful gain and wrongful loss).
The explanation provided is as follows:
Explanation .—A person is said to gain wrongfully when such person retains wrongfully, as well as when such person acquires wrongfully. A person is said to lose wrongfully when such person is wrongfully kept out of any property, as well as when such person is wrongfully deprived of property.
Therefore, if A took money belonging B and distributed the money to B’s creditor, A would have committed theft. Although A did not gain anything from his conduct, A intended to cause wrongful loss to B.
2. Any Movable Property
“Movable property” is defined as “corporeal property of every description, except land and things attached to the earth, or permanently fastened to anything which is attached to the earth.”
Clearly, in order to steal something, that thing has to be moved from one place to another. That is why you under the definition of ‘movable property’, you cannot steal land or something permanent affixed to land.
So now we know that there must be some movement, the next question is how far?
This question proves to be a little trickier than it seems. In a Singapore High Court case, the court held that moving an object from the ground floor storeroom to the first floor can constitute the movement element in theft. Therefore, using this approach, distance seems to not be a critical consideration as long as there is some form of movement coupled with fulfilling of the other elements of theft.
Shoplifting or just browsing?
A bit of a sticky situation can arise based on the movement principle.
Example: If A enters a supermarket with an intention to steal a loaf of bread. A takes the bread off the shelf and just as he was about to leave the store decided to abandon his venture. He proceeds to pay for the bread he took and left.
Was there theft? When did the theft occur?
According to our ex- Chief Justice, Yong Pung How CJ, there was no theft. He explained:
“In my view, a shopkeeper consents, at least impliedly, to his customers taking and holding on to any of the items in full view within the store while shopping. This is so, even if the customer is holding on to the item with the intention of stealing it, for the simple reason that theft is not an inchoate offence…”
From the above extract provided Yong CJ, we can identify another element consider in case of theft – Consent.
Explanation 5.—The consent mentioned in the definition may be express or implied, and may be given either by the person in possession, or by any person having for that purpose authority either express or implied.
The above explanation provided in the Penal Code prescribes that consent can be either express or implied.
However, we must understand that there are certain instances where consent can be ‘not real’. This is provided for in Section 90 of the Penal Code (Cap 224).