Theft is one of the most commonly prosecuted criminal offences in Ontario, but many people do not understand how the courts address theft charges in Canada. In fact, some people mistakenly believe that courts do not prioritize theft of lower value items. They think that the Crown is usually willing to drop charges in such cases or, at the worst, only penalize those convicted with a proverbial slap on the wrist.
Such thinking is misguided, as the Crown takes all theft charges seriously and will only drop charges if there is a compelling reason. And those convicted, whether for theft over $5,000 or theft under $5,000, end up with a criminal record and attendant penalties that can prove quite severe. Thus, anyone in the Greater Toronto Area facing theft charges should always consult with a skilled theft criminal lawyer in order to secure the best possible outcome.
Theft is addressed as an “Offence Against Rights of Property” starting under Section 322 of Canada’s Criminal Code, and ending with maximum penalties as mandated under Section 334 . The Code designates all types of theft, including fraud, under the same framework, but differentiates theft based on value stolen as a means for setting penalties.
Is Theft Over $5,000 an Indictable Offence?
While theft over $5,000 in Ontario and across Canada can be addressed as a summary conviction offence, it is usually treated as an indictable offence with severe penalties that include a maximum prison sentence of 10 years. With the exception of motor vehicle theft, the Criminal Code does not mandate a minimum sentence for theft over $5,000 convictions. This gives the courts a wide range of discretion in setting penalties. In fact, some people convicted of theft over $5,000 as a first offence are only sentenced to probation terms, fines, and restitution.
In determining appropriate penalties for theft over $5,000 convictions, courts weigh a number of mitigating and aggravating factors. Attempts to return stolen goods or otherwise provide restitution in advance of the conviction can mitigate penalties. Admitting to the crime and showing remorse can also serve as a mitigating factor. Breaches of trust, such as stealing from an employer, is an aggravating factor that typically results in a harsher sentence. A pre-existing criminal record, especially ones that include convictions for previous thefts, is also an aggravating factor.
Penalties for Theft Under $5,000 in Ontario
The maximum penalty for theft under $5,000 is a two-year prison term. As with theft over $5,000, theft under $5,000 is considered a hybrid offence as the Crown can choose to prosecute the case by indictment or as a summary conviction offence. When prosecutors seek indictment in a theft under $5,000 case, they are usually seeking the most severe penalties possible. Even if the Crown proceeds with a summary conviction offence prosecution, it can still lead to a sentence of up to six months in jail and/or $5,000 fine. However, courts tend to reserve jail terms for theft under $5,000 summary convictions for those cases with the most aggravating factors. In fact, most people charged with theft under $5,000 as a first offence are typically penalized with fines and restitution, and/or in some cases, probation.
Your Criminal Defence Lawyer’s Role in Theft Cases
Whether as an indictable offence or summary conviction offence, and whether facing theft over $5,000 or theft under $5,000 charges, you do not want to face the Ontario courts alone. In fact, if you are arrested for theft in the Greater Toronto Area, you should not talk to the police until you have consulted with a criminal defence lawyer. Anything you say can be used against you at trial and could compromise your ability to secure a favorable outcome.
Even if you are facing what seems to be a minor shoplifting theft charge, a conviction can seriously disrupt your life by giving you a criminal record, which can negatively impact your employment, immigration status, and ability to travel. Potential fines, probation, and even jail time can further disrupt your life.
A skilled criminal defence lawyer can help you navigate through the complexities of theft law whether being treated as a theft over $5,000 or theft under $5,000 Criminal Code violation. Your criminal defence lawyer will carefully evaluate the charges and evidence to determine how to strategically achieve the most favorable outcome possible.
In some cases, your lawyer may find enough weaknesses in the Crown’s case that they can successfully push it to withdraw charges, reduce charges, or otherwise resolve the case in manner that does not include a “criminal” conviction. Your lawyer will also ensure that your Charter Rights were protected during the arrest and that police followed proper procedures with regard to evidence handling. Charter rights violations and procedural mistakes can cause the court to suppress Crown evidence and sometimes lead to case dismissals.
An experienced criminal defence trial lawyer also knows how to successfully dispute evidence presented during trial and raise enough reasonable doubt to secure an acquittal. Reasonable doubt can be raised about conflicting witness testimony, unclear video footage, and other evidence. The Crown also has to prove that the theft was intentional, which opens another angle to the reasonable doubt defence.
If ultimately convicted, your criminal defence lawyer can help secure the least onerous penalties possible by highlighting mitigating factors and minimizing aggravating factors. Experienced criminal defence trial lawyers are adept at working with the court to focus on rehabilitation rather than punishment and usually successful in encouraging leniency in sentencing.
Turn to Mass Tsang for your Theft Defence in Ontario
With careful examination of all elements of each client’s theft charges in the Greater Toronto Area, the criminal trial lawyers at Mass Tsang are dedicated to seeking the best outcome possible for those charged with theft in Ontario. Mass Tsang lawyers have successfully defended thousands of Toronto-area theft cases and have a strong record in securing withdrawn charges, dismissals, and other favorable outcomes for their clients.