Customs Act 1901 Offences


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There are various offences under the Commonwealth Customs Act 1901 that relate to the movement of goods across borders, as well as different taxes and duties that apply when importing or exporting goods.

Being charged with an offence under the Customs Act 1901 can result in hefty fines, and may affect your ability to travel in the future. However, our criminal law experts can help you avoid a conviction, leaving you free to travel and get on with your life.

Some of the most common Customs Act 1901 offences are discussed below:

Smuggling and Importing and Exporting Prohibited Goods – s 233 Customs Act 1901

Under s 233 of the Commonwealth Customs Act 1901, you may face charges where you have smuggled, imported or exported ‘prohibited goods’.

‘Prohibited goods’ are goods prohibited by any Commonwealth legislation, including:

  • Certain animals and plants, and some types of animal and plant material
  • Firearms and other weapons without the appropriate permission
  • Ammunition
  • Pornography
  • Counterfeit goods
  • Chemicals without a license

NOTE: If you have been charged with importing or exporting prohibited drugs, you will face charges under the Commonwealth Criminal Code rather than the Customs Act. Please click here for more information about importing and exporting prohibited drugs under the Commonwealth Criminal Code.

Your Options

Pleading Not Guilty

To be found guilty of smuggling or importing/exporting prohibited goods, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you:

  • Attempted to import or export, actually imported or exported or possessed imported goods
  • That were prohibited by the law

If you do not feel that the prosecution will be able to establish these two factors beyond a reasonable doubt, you may wish to contest the charges in court by pleading ‘not guilty’.

Our highly experienced criminal lawyers will then give you the strongest possible defence against the charges by disputing the prosecution case and raising any defences to the charges, for example:

  • Where you made a reasonable mistake of fact – for example, where you honestly believed that the goods were some other legal goods (honest and reasonable mistake of fact)
  • Where you were threatened or coerced into importing/exporting the goods (duress)
  • Where you were suffering from a mental illness at the time of the offence (mental illness)

Pleading Guilty

Alternatively, if you wish to accept the charges alleged, you may wish to plead guilty.

In some cases, pleading guilty at an early stage may be beneficial, because the court may award you a more lenient penalty for demonstrating remorse.

If you’re considering pleading guilty, you may be wondering what kinds of penalties you could face.

Generally, the penalty imposed for smuggling, importing or exporting prohibited goods is a fine. The amount that you will be fined depends largely on the value of the goods that were smuggled.

If the court is able to determine the value of the goods, you could face a fine of up to three times the value of the goods, or up to $170,000 (whichever is greater).

Where the court is unable to determine the value of the goods, you could face a fine of up to $170,000.

However, these types of penalties will only apply in the most serious cases. The type of penalty that you will receive depends upon the facts and circumstances of your case.

The types of penalties that you face include:

Our lawyers can help you achieve the lowest possible penalty by presenting your case in the most favourable light and negotiating to have the goods valued advantageously.

Importing and Exporting ‘Tier 1’ and ‘Tier 2’ goods – s 233 BAA and BAB Customs Act 1901

If you are charged with importing and exporting certain types of illegal goods, you could face harsh penalties.

However, our highly skilled Accredited Criminal Law Specialists can help you to avoid a conviction and any onerous penalties that may apply.

Under the law, certain goods are deemed to be ‘Tier 1 goods’ and ‘Tier 2 goods.’

Tier 1 goods include:

  • Commercial quantities of ‘objectionable goods.’ Objectionable goods include things such as video games, movies, books, magazines or other publications which deal with matters of sex, drugs, crime, cruelty or violence.  Examples may include child pornography, or material instructing or advocating the execution of a terrorist act.
  • Objectionable goods which are intended for distribution, or public exhibition
  • Performance enhancing drugs
  • Non-narcotic drugs

Tier 2 goods include:

  • Some weapons, including certain types of firearms and knives;
  • Chemicals;
  • Body tissue and human bodily fluids such as blood;
  • Fake credit cards

Your Options

Pleading Not Guilty

Before you can be found guilty of importing or exporting Tier 1 or Tier 2 goods, the prosecution must prove:

  • That you imported or exported a Tier 1 or Tier 2 good
  • That you did so either intentionally or recklessly, or without the permission of the appropriate person

If you do not believe that the prosecution will be able to make out these elements beyond a reasonable doubt, our highly skilled advocates can help you defend your matter in court by raising evidence to cast doubt upon the prosecution case.

We can also assist in identifying any defences to the charges, for example:

  • Where you made a reasonable mistake of fact – for example, where you honestly believed that the goods were some other legal goods (honest and reasonable mistake of fact)
  • Where you were threatened or coerced into importing/exporting the goods (duress)
  • Where you were suffering from a mental illness at the time of the offence (mental illness)

Pleading Guilty

If you wish to accept the charges against you, you can enter a plea of guilty without having to go through the process of having a criminal trial. Often, this can make your matter less costly and time-consuming.

The court will also take into consideration the remorse that you have demonstrated by pleading guilty at an early stage, and may give you a more lenient penalty.

If you’re considering entering an early guilty plea, you may be wondering what kinds of penalties you could face.

Under the law, the maximum penalty for importing or exporting Tier 1 or 2 goods is 10 years imprisonment, or a fine of up to $425,000, or both.

However, these types of penalties only apply in the most serious cases. The type of penalty that you will receive depends on several factors that will be considered by the judge.

The types of penalties that you face include:

Our expert defence team can help you achieve a lenient outcome in your case by presenting any mitigating factors which reduce the seriousness of the charges in a compelling manner.

Our senior lawyers are highly skilled at presenting sentencing submissions and have helped hundreds of clients avoid harsh penalties by persuading the judge to deal with Customs Act offences leniently.

We can also negotiate to have the charges reduced to less serious charges which carry lighter penalties.

Evading Paying Customs Duty – s 234 Customs Act 1901

The law requires you to pay any relevant customs duties or taxes whenever you import goods.

Failure to pay these taxes is a criminal offence, which may result in heavy fines.

However, with the assistance of the experts at Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, you may be able to fight the charges and avoid these harsh penalties.

Your Options

Pleading Not Guilty

There are several different things which can amount to ‘evading customs duty,’ including:

  • Failing to pay taxes or duties associated with importing or exporting goods
  • Obtaining some kind of rebate, refund or remission from customs duties and taxes
  • Making misleading or false statements to customs officers, or other people knowing that the information will be passed on to customs officers
  • Selling,  or attempting to sell goods that are purported to be prohibited imports or smuggled goods

To be found guilty of ‘evading paying customs duty,’ the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that your actions constituted one of the above examples.

Our lawyers can help you cast doubt on the prosecution case so that they are unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you did any of the acts under this section.

We can do this by presenting evidence which disputes the prosecution’s case, and raising any defences to explain or justify your actions.

Examples of defences include:

  • Where you made a reasonable mistake of fact – for example, where you honestly believed that the goods were some other legal goods (honest and reasonable mistake of fact)
  • Where you were threatened or coerced into importing/exporting the goods (duress)
  • Where you were suffering from a mental illness at the time of the offence (mental illness)

Pleading Guilty

If you wish to accept the charges against you, you may wish to plead guilty.

This may be beneficial to you in certain situations, as the judge will take into account the remorse that you have demonstrated in entering an early guilty plea, and may award you a more lenient penalty on this basis.

Pleading guilty at an early stage also means that you will be able to avoid the costly and time-consuming process of going through a criminal trial to determine your guilt.

However, before entering a plea, you should speak to an experienced criminal lawyer, as there may be a way to fight the charges and avoid a conviction.

If you are considering pleading guilty, you may be wondering what types of penalties will apply in your case.

The types of penalties depend largely on the types of charges against you, as well as the amount of the financial benefit that was obtained:

  • Evading customs duty: Where the court is able to determine the amount of the customs duty that was evaded, you could face a fine of up to two times the amount of the duty that was evaded. Alternatively, where the court is unable to determine the amount that was evaded, you could face a fine of up to $85,000.
  • Obtaining a refund/rebate: You could face a fine between 2 and 5 times the amount of the refund or rebate that was received.
  • Making false statements to customs officers:  You could face a fine of up to $42,500.
  • Selling or attempting to sell goods purported to be prohibited imports or smuggled goods: You could face a fine of up to $1700.

The types of penalties that you face include:

Our lawyers can help you avoid these harsh maximum penalties by presenting your case in a positive light and persuading the judge to deal with your matter leniently.

Our dedicated experts have years of experience presenting compelling sentencing submissions and will fight hard in each and every case to obtain the best possible penalty.

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