We have recently noticed an increase in the number of criminal damage matters coming through our office. Mainly, we believe that this is related to the increase in family violence related charges and prosecutions which are progressing through the courts. Criminal damage is described in the Crimes Act 1958 as destroying or damaging property, and is covered by section 197 of the Act. The offence is made out where a person intentionally and without lawful excuse destroys or damages any property belonging to another or him/herself. This surprises most people, as it is assumed that if the property belongs to you, you may deal with it as you see fit. However, we have noticed in recent times that most criminal damage matters relate to property actually owned by the person, with the offence detected when Police arrive in the context of a domestic dispute. For example, breaking a door or table or mirror in the course of an argument, even if there was no violence directly against another person.
In circumstances where the property is destroyed by fire, it is considered arson and the penalties are more severe. Criminal damage currently carries a 10 year maximum sentence and arson carries a 15 year maximum sentence. Most criminal damage matters proceed through the Magistrates’ Court, attracting much lower penalties than would otherwise be available, unless the value of the property is significant or there are other more serious charges that must be dealt with in the higher jurisdictions. Even in the higher jurisdictions, it is often the case that a matter can be negotiated so that charges are withdrawn, thus increasing the prospect of a lower penalty and avoidance of prison time.
For example, in 2016, Galbally Rolfe represented a young woman charged with arson, drug possession, drug trafficking and theft. Following a lengthy case conference with the Prosecution, our firm successfully negotiated the withdrawal of the two charges of arson. Arson is punishable by a maximum term of imprisonment of 15 years. The withdrawal of the charges meant out client’s matter could be resolved in the Magistrates’ Court and did not need to proceed to the County Court. Following a Plea on our client’s behalf, our client was sentenced to a CCO with community work. Had the arson charges proceeded, our client may have been sentenced by the County Court to a term of imprisonment.
It is also common for the Police to instigate intervention order proceedings on behalf of a person they believe requires protection, in circumstances where there are family violence connotations to the alleged offence.
If you are charged with criminal damage offences, please contact our office to discuss your matter.