Committing Theft in Singapore: What are the Penalties?
Theft is a criminal offence in Singapore. Examples of theft include shop theft and theft of vehicles. This article will explore what constitutes theft, and the punishment for theft.
What is Theft?
Section 378 of the Penal Code states that:
“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.”
Thus, the key elements of theft are:
- Dishonest intention
- Moving moveable property out of the possession of any person
- Moving that property without that person’s consent
1. Dishonest intention
The accused must have a dishonest intention, i.e the intent to cause wrongful gain or loss.
2. Moving moveable property out of the possession of any person
The property that is stolen must be movable property.
The Penal Code defines “movable property” as corporeal (i.e tangible) property except for property attached to the earth (e.g. land), or items permanently fastened to anything attached to the earth (e.g. a tree).
Once the property is no longer attached to the earth (e.g. where a tree is cut down), it constitutes movable property.
Further, there need not be a permanent removal from possession. Temporary removal of the item, where the item is subsequently returned to its rightful owner, is sufficient to constitute theft. This is unless there was implied consent that A could take B’s property and return it (see below).
“Possession” refers to the control that a person is able to exercise over the property, and does not necessarily require physical possession.
3. Moving another’s property without his/her consent
The accused must have taken the property without the other party’s express or implied consent.
One example of implied consent is a shopkeeper implicitly consenting to customers taking and holding on to items in full view within the shop while shopping.
If there is implied consent to move the property, the accused will have moved the property with consent and hence there is no theft committed.
What is the Difference Between Theft and Robbery?
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An “orh horh” of disapproval isn’t all you’ll be getting if you get caught committing theft! 😤😤 Offenders risk a jail term of up to 3 years, or a fine, or both. 👮♂️ Alternatively, first-time offenders may get a community sentence (e.g. requiring the offender to do community work) instead of a fine. – Note that theft is not the same as robbery, though! 😳 Robbery involves causing, or threatening to cause, injury or death to the victim while trying to steal from them. If the person being stolen from is trapped or cornered in the process, that counts as robbery as well. Of course, this means that it carries heavier penalties.🤧 Regardless of the differences between the two, though, it shouldn’t really matter if you’re not planning on committing theft anytime soon…👀 #SingaporeLegalAdvice
A theft case may become one of robbery if the offender voluntarily caused or attempted to cause to any person:
- Wrongful restraint;
- Fear of instant death;
- Fear of instant hurt; and/or
- Fear of instant wrongful restraint,
while committing the theft or attempting to commit the theft.
If the theft involved force or the threat of force, but neither were used for the purpose of carrying out the theft, then the offender may only be found guilty of theft and not robbery.
Types of Theft Cases
Shoplifting occurs when one steals goods from a shop.
In Mustaza Bin Abdul Majid v PP for instance, the accused was charged with stealing a carton of drinks from a supermarket. He was apprehended outside of the supermarket, and was charged with theft. He was sentenced to 3 years’ imprisonment.
In addition, in December 2018, a Vietnamese syndicate was jailed for stealing items from major clothing stores in Singapore.
Read our other article for more information on the penalties for shoplifting in Singapore.
Theft of vehicles
Another example of theft is the theft of vehicles, such as motorcycles and cars.
In January 2018, for instance, a woman was arrested for suspected involvement in a car theft at Mount Elizabeth Hospital. The victim had left her car key in the vehicle before leaving the carpark. Later, the accused drove the car off.
Read our other article for more information on what to do if someone has stolen your car in Singapore.
Are the Following Considered Theft?
Stealing personal data
Personal data is not currently a form of property covered by section 378 of the Penal Code.
The Penal Code defines movable property as tangible property (as mentioned above). Thus, as personal data is considered intangible property, it will not be covered by section 378 of the Penal Code.
However, this may be amended in the future as the Ministry of Law and Ministry of Home Affairs has proposed recommendations to amend section 378 to account for the possibility of theft of intangible property.
Stealing wireless access
Stealing wireless access may occur when one logs into another’s unsecured wireless Internet network. Stealing wireless access is not theft under the Penal Code as it does not involve movable property.
However, it contravenes section 6(1)(a) of the Computer Misuse and Cybersecurity Act where a person is guilty for securing access to a computer without authority, in order to obtain, directly or indirectly, a computer service.
Offenders may be fined up to $10,000 or jailed up to 3 years, or both.
At times, one may take items that one has found in public areas. In such cases, offenders may be guilty of criminal misappropriation. The difference between criminal misappropriation and theft is whether the accused already had a dishonest intention to take the property when coming across it.
In cases of theft, the property is originally in the possession of another person, and the accused forms a dishonest intention to take it.
However, in cases of criminal misappropriation, the accused does not form the dishonest intention at the outset. Instead, he finds the property in a neutral manner (e.g. by finding it), and then subsequently forms the dishonest intention to take the property for his own use (i.e. misappropriation).
If the item is abandoned, then there is no misappropriation or theft involved. This is because abandoned property are not owned or possessed by anyone.
However, if a person finds and decides to assert possession of the item, of which from its nature could be inferred that there must be an owner, the finder must take reasonable steps to discover and give notice to the owner, and only keep the item for a reasonable time for the owner to claim it.
Otherwise, the person could be found guilty of criminal misappropriation.
For instance, in Wong Seng Kwan v PP, the accused found a wallet on the floor of the Casino. Despite knowing that the wallet had an owner (accused believed the wallet belonged to a foreigner who left it in the casino), he did not take reasonable steps (e.g. returning the wallet to the security personnel).
Instead, he picked up the wallet and removed the cash in it. It was held that the accused had committed criminal misappropriation, as he clearly had the dishonest intention to take the property for his own use when he removed the cash from the wallet.
Another example of taking an item by finding is freeganism, where people retrieve items from dumpsters.
In Singapore, section 16 of the Environmental Public Health Act provides that all rubbish brought by anyone to a public disposal facility, or collected by employees, contractors or agents of the National Environmental Agency (NEA), will be NEA property.
Thus, there may be theft committed against the NEA.
What are the Penalties for Committing Theft in Singapore?
Under section 379 of the Penal Code, offenders may be liable for a fine and/or imprisonment up to 3 years for theft.
For first-time offenders, a community-based sentence may be applied instead of a fine or imprisonment.
Community-based sentencing allows the courts to give more appropriate sentences to minor offences. It is applied where the offence committed is not too serious and the offender has not been sentenced to imprisonment before.
Examples of theft which may be considered less-serious include theft of low-value items, while serious theft may include repeat theft offences.
Examples of community-based sentences include:
- Mandatory Treatment Order: An order requiring an offender to undergo psychiatric treatment for a period up to 36 months. This is applicable to offenders who suffer from mental conditions that contributed to them committing the offence.
- Day Reporting Order: An order requiring an offender to report to a day reporting officer on a regular basis for a period of 3 – 12 months. Rehabilitation plans will be tailored to each individual. Day reporting orders are available to first-time offenders that are above 16 years of age, and who have committed minor crimes such as theft.
- Community Work Order: An order requiring an offender to perform supervised community work associated to his offence for a period of time.
- Community Service Order: An order requiring the offender (aged 16 and above) to perform supervised community service for a period of time. The court must first be satisfied that the offender is mentally and physically suited to perform community service.
- Short Detention Order: An order requiring first-time, low-risk offenders to be detained in prison for up to 14 days.
Eligibility for community-based sentencing
The following categories of theft offenders will be ineligible for community-based sentencing:
- Offenders who are habitual criminals.
- An offender who is convicted for two or more offences, is sentenced at the same court proceeding.
For a repeat offender, a custodial sentence is usually ordered.
The courts generally seek to rehabilitate youth offenders. Thus, youth offenders may be given rehabilitative sentences such as probation or reformative training. In addition, the Theft Intervention Programme may be available.
If probation is ordered, the offender will be supervised by a probation officer between 6 months and 3 years.
The offender will be able to carry on his daily activities, but will have to abide by the conditions of his probation order. If the conditions of the probation order are breached, the probation may be revoked and a fine or imprisonment term may be imposed instead.
Under reformative training, the offender will be detained in a structured environment for 18 months, and will be required to attend programmes and counselling to address the offender’s behaviour.
The Theft Intervention Programme is a 4-month specialised treatment group programme for adolescents who have repeatedly committed theft. The programme aims to change theft offenders’ views on stealing and, teach them skills to resist committing further thefts.
However, rehabilitation may not be offered if:
- The offence is serious;
- The harm caused is severe;
- The offender is unrepentant; or
- The conditions do not exist to make rehabilitative sentencing options such as probation or reformative training viable. Such conditions are determined by:
- The nature of the rehabilitation best suited for the offender;
- The availability of familial support for the offender’s rehabilitative efforts; and
- Any other special reasons or need for rehabilitation.
Foreigners who commit theft in Singapore
Foreigners who commit theft in Singapore face greater punishment if their sole purpose for coming to Singapore was to commit crimes.
In 2015, three Mexicans and a Chilean national were jailed between 20 and 22 months for stealing foreign currencies from a money changer at Mustafa Centre. In 2018, three Egyptian nationals were jailed for coming to Singapore to commit theft by stealing from shoppers at City Square Mall.
Other factors taken into consideration during sentencing for theft
The court will also take other factors into account when deciding on the sentence. Such factors include:
- Voluntary restitution: Accused persons who voluntarily make payment for the stolen goods will still be punished for their actions. However, the court may allow them to keep the goods.
- Severity of the crime: For instance, if petty theft is committed where the item stolen is not of high value, the offender may seek conditional discharge. This means that the offender will not be prosecuted further for the theft, on the condition that he/she does not commit any more offences for a certain period of time.
Where Other Crimes are Committed In Order for the Theft to Take Place
What happens if one house-breaks to commit theft?
If one breaks into another’s house to commit theft, one may also be liable for house-trespass. Offenders may be liable to imprisonment for up to 7 years and a fine for committing house-trespass in order to commit theft.
Instead of the regular theft offence, the offender may also be charged with theft in dwelling-house. Theft in dwelling-house carries a penalty of imprisonment for up to 7 years and a fine.
What happens if the offender injured or killed the victim in order to commit theft?
If the offender injured or killed the victim in order to commit the theft, the offender may be charged with robbery instead of theft. This is regardless of whether the offender had intended to injure or kill the victim.
The offender may also be additionally charged with either a hurt offence or murder, depending on whether the victim survived the episode and the extent of their injuries.
Should I Engage a Lawyer If I am Charged with Theft?
If charged with theft, you should consider engaging a criminal lawyer to defend you. As practitioners with legal knowledge, lawyers can advise you on how to proceed with your case. The accused may still hire a lawyer in cases of simple petty theft.
How your lawyer can help you
Your lawyer can help with your application for bail. Further, the lawyer can write representations for you to the Prosecution in order to reduce your charges or have the charges dropped.
Will Theft Leave a Criminal Record?
Theft will leave a criminal record. However, theft offenders may have their criminal records spent (i.e. they will be deemed to not have a criminal record) after a period of 5 crime-free years.
Alternatively, theft offenders who receive community-based sentences can have their criminal records spent if the conditions of their sentence are fulfilled.
However, theft offenders may be disqualified from having their criminal record spent in situations such as the following:
- The offender was sentenced to more than 3 months’ imprisonment, or fined more than $2,000, for the theft;
- The offender has more than one previous unspent criminal record; or
- The offender has previous criminal records which are now spent.
Theft is one of the most common crimes committed in Singapore. If you are charged with theft, you should consider engaging a criminal defence lawyer to advise you on your case.
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