The offence of larceny, or theft, requires an element of intention to permanently deprive the owner of the item.
So is it still stealing if you were just borrowing the item?
‘Joyriding’ is where a car is taken and driven around recreationally without the consent of the owner.
At common law, joyriding was not sufficient to constitute the offence of larceny, since most people who commit the offence intend to return or abandon it once they have their fun.
However, section 118 of the Crimes Act now makes it clear that intending to return the property is not a defence to larceny.
The section states that:
“Where, on the trial of a person for larceny, it appears that the accused appropriated the property in question to the accused’s own use, or for the accused’s own benefit, or that of another, but intended eventually to restore the same, or in the case of money to return an equivalent amount, such person shall not by reason only thereof be entitled to acquittal.”
What does the law say about joyriding?
Joyriding is most common today amongst teens and young adults, but the offence has been in place since 1924 in NSW.
154A of the NSW Crimes Act covers the offence of joyriding, which is legally known as ‘taking a conveyance without consent of owner.’
The legislation states that a person who:
(a) Without having the consent of the owner or person in lawful possession of a conveyance, takes and drives it, or takes it for the purpose of driving it, or secreting it, obtain a reward for its restoration or pretended restoration, or for any other fraudulent purpose, or
(b) Knowing that any conveyance has been taken without such consent, drives it or allows himself or herself to be carried in or on it,
shall be deemed to be guilty of larceny and liable to be indicted for that offence.
Joyriding is the most common action which is prosecuted under this section, but it is certainly not the only offence.
‘Conveyances’ also covers other vehicles such as bicycles and boats.
The offence includes the following actions:
- Driving the vehicle,
- Secreting the vehicle,
- Taking the vehicle in order to return it and obtain a reward, and
- Taking the vehicle for any other fraudulent purpose.
What does the prosecution need to prove?
If you have been charged with an offence under section 154A(1), the prosecution will need to prove beyond reasonable doubt that you:
- Took the car and drove it, and
- You did not have the consent of the owner.
If you have been charged with an offence under section 154A(2), the prosecution does not need to prove that you took the vehicle, but that you:
- Drove or allowed yourself to be carried in the conveyance, and
- Knew that the owner (or person in possession) had not given consent to the use of the vehicle.
It is important to note that with this second element, the prosecution must prove that you knew the owner or possessor did not consent before you entered the vehicle.
What are the penalties?
The maximum penalty for joyriding is five years imprisonment if the case is dealt with in the District Court. The maximum penalty is lower is the case is finalised in the Local Court: a fine of up to $5,500 and/ or two years imprisonment.
If you are guilty of joyriding, the court can impose any one of a range of other penalties: including a good behaviour bond, community service order, intensive correction order, or it may even let you off without a criminal record under a ‘section 10 dismissal or conditional release order’.
Those who are charged with joyriding may also find themselves facing proceedings for other offences such as dangerous or negligent driving.
The dangers of joyriding
Joyriding can lead to tragic consequences, as one unlicensed 25-year-old driver discovered.
Matthew Lehn killed a 76-year-old grandfather when he took a car and drove it while high on cannabis and ice. Lehn ran into Harry McCarrol on a suburban road as the elderly man was returning home from the local shops. He was sentenced to a maximum of eleven years in prison for a number of charges, including dangerous driving causing death.
If you are facing charges involving joyriding, it is vital to secure the services of an experienced criminal defence lawyer soon as possible.