Theft is often considered a petty crime, given the nature of most cases. However, it is not uncommon to see posters and warnings around Singapore by the Singapore Police Force, discouraging theft. Here are 10 facts about theft in Singapore.
- Theft vs Theft in Dwelling-House, etc.
Stealing from a shop and stealing from someone in a park may sound similar with the only difference being that of the place from which they stole. However, in the eyes of the law, it may be two distinct charges. The consensus is that ‘theft’ is ‘stealing’ but, where the item was when it was stolen is the fundamental difference between theft and theft in dwelling-house, etc.
Theft is described under section 378 of the Penal Code as anyone who intentionally, dishonestly and without permission, takes any property out of the possession of the owner. The term ‘takes’ refers to moving out of the possession of the owner without permission.
According to section 380 of the Penal Code, theft in dwelling is said to be committed if the act of theft was done “in any building, tent or vessel” which is used for humans to reside in or for the “custody of the property”. This means that if someone had stolen while in a flat, or in a shop where the item belongs to the shop, it is more severe than to steal from someone in an open area such as a park.
- What Other Types of Theft are there?
What do you think of when you see the phase “grand theft auto”? You would think it’s the name of a popular video game. However, grand theft auto is a term used in the United States to mean theft of a motor vehicle. In Singapore, it not common that we hear of cases where a vehicle was stolen, though, on several occasions, vehicles have been taken without permission for joyrides.
Another type of theft is when it is committed by an employee. Similar to an offence of criminal breach of trust, theft by clerk or servant of property in possession of master is pretty straightforward. For example, if a storekeeper who is employed by the storeowner to tend the shop, stole a bottle of liquor for personal consumption.
The last type of theft, which is also the most severe, is committing theft after preparation made for causing death or hurt in order to commit theft. Under section 382 of the Penal Code, it is described as the offender making plans to cause the death, hurt, restraint, fear of death or restraint, in order to commit theft or to help him escape after committing such theft or to help him keep the stolen property.
- What are the Punishments for Theft?
- In the case of simple theft, the punishment is prescribed under section 379 of the Penal Code and it is as follows:
An imprisonment term which may extend to 3 years, or with fine, or with both.
- In the case of theft in dwelling-house, etc., the punishment is prescribed under section 380 of the Penal Code and it is as follows:
An imprisonment term which may extend to 7 years and shall be liable to a fine.
- In the case of theft of a motor vehicle, the punishment is prescribed under section 379A of the Penal Code and it is as follows:
An imprisonment term which may extend to 7 years and shall be liable to a fine. Further, if someone is convicted of an offence under this section, the court may order for the disqualification of the offender’s license or even obtaining one for a specified period.
- In the case of theft by clerk or servant of property in possession of master, the punishment is prescribed under section 381 of the Penal Code and it is as follows:
An imprisonment term which may extend to 7 years and shall also be liable to a fine.
- In the case of theft after preparations made for causing death or hurt in order to commit theft, the punishment is prescribed under section 382 of the Penal Code and it is as follows:
An imprisonment term which may extend to 10 years, and shall also be punished with caning with not less than 3 strokes.
- Theft vs Criminal Misappropriation
Sometimes, it is not clear whether the act of taking another’s property is theft or criminal misappropriation because the definition may be similar.
According to section 403 of the Penal Code, criminal misappropriation of property is to take one’s property and make it their own. The key words missing from this explanation as compared to theft under section 379 of the Penal Code, is, “dishonestly” and “intentionally”. What this means is that, when someone misappropriates another person’s property, it is usually the lack of a dishonest intention to steal.
For example, when a passenger of a taxi accidentally leaves behind a laptop in the taxi and instead of seeking out the rightful owner, gives it to his child for their personal use. The difference between theft and criminal misappropriation is that the taxi driver did not intend to take his passenger’s laptop but found it opportune that the passenger accidentally left it behind.
- What is the Punishment for Criminal Misappropriation?
Given that criminal misappropriation lacks the criminal intention that an offence of theft has, the punishment is less severe. According to section 403 of the Penal Code, whoever commits an offence of criminal misappropriation of property, may be sentenced to an imprisonment term which may extend to 2 years, or with fine, or with both.
- Aggravated Criminal Misappropriation
According to section 404 of the Penal Code, if the property that was misappropriated, belonged to a deceased person and the offender knew the property was in possession of the said deceased person at the time of the death, he would have committed an offence under section 404 of the Penal Code.
One thing to note is that the property must not have been legally entitled to another person as once the property had a legal owner at the time of the deceased person’s death, the crime committed would have been theft.
The punishment for this offence is an imprisonment term which may extend to 3 years and shall be liable to a fine; and if the deceased person was the offender’s employer at the time of the death, the imprisonment may extend to 7 years.
- What are the factors that the Court takes into Consideration when Sentencing?
When studying the circumstances of a theft/criminal misappropriation cases, the value of the property in question is important as it is an indication of how severe the case is and in turn, may affect the ultimate sentence.
Some other factors may include, but are not limited to, the mental state of the accused person. For some who are convicted of theft, they suffer from a mental condition that causes them to have a compulsive need to steal, this is known as Kleptomania. However, to prove one has such condition, a thorough assessment by a qualified psychiatrist will be required.
In some cases, the accused person makes voluntary restitution to compensate for the monetary damage of the victim and sometimes, this is a factor that the court takes into consideration when deliberating on a sentence.
- Are there other Crimes Related to Theft?
In some cases, when offender tries to steal a person’s wallet, but the victim put up a fight, got hurt or died in the process, the crime committed here is robbery and not theft. As described under section 390(1) of the Penal Code states – in all robbery there is either theft or extortion. In other words, it could be said that robbery is an aggravated form of theft.
Section 390(2) of the Penal Code explains when does theft become robbery and it is when the offender threatens the victim, in order to commit theft or in midst of such theft or trying to get away with the property, voluntarily causes or attempts to cause death, hurt or wrongful restraint, or fear of instant death, hurt or wrongful restraint.
If someone commits an offence of robbery, the punishment can be severe, the court may impose a sentence of an imprisonment term of not less than 2 years and not more than 10 years and shall also be punished with caning with not less than 6 strokes. Further, if the offence took place at night (i.e. between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m.), the sentence imposed would an imprisonment term not less than 3 years and not more than 14 years and shall also be punished with caning with not less than 12 strokes.
- House breaking
Some other offences that can be tied with theft would be house breaking in order to commit an offence punishable with imprisonment. According to section 450 of the Penal Code, house breaking is whoever trespasses with the intention of committing a crime, by entering into, or remaining in, any building, tent, container, or vessel used as human dwelling or of worship or for custody of property.
If someone commits such an offence, he may be punished with an imprisonment term which may extend to 10 years and shall be liable for a fine.
- Criminal Record
Theft will leave a criminal record as it is listed in the First and Second Schedule of the Registration of Criminals Act. However, it is automatically expunged after the record has been spent. For theft to be expunged, the offender must not commit any other offences within the following 5 years from conviction.
In certain circumstances, offenders who receive community-based sentences (CBS) such as Mandatory Treatment Order (MTO), Day Reporting Order (DRO), Community Work Order (CWO), Community Service Order or a Short Detention Order (SDO), may have their records expunged after the conditions of the CBS has been met and satisfied.
- Engaging a Lawyer
The information provided above is non-exhaustive. If you or anyone you know is being charged with theft, it would be better to seek legal advice. Our team of criminal lawyers has vast experience in all areas of criminal law and are always ready to take on your cases. Book a free consultation here!