Handling stolen goods

Theft Act 1968, s.22
Effective from: 01 February 2016

Triable either way
Maximum: 14 years’ custody
Offence range: Discharge – 8 years’ custody

User guide for this offence


Applicability

In accordance with section 120 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, the Sentencing Council issues this definitive guideline. It applies to all offenders aged 18 and older, who are sentenced on or after 1 February 2016, regardless of the date of the offence.

Section 125(1) of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 provides that when sentencing offences committed after 6 April 2010:

“Every court –
(a) must, in sentencing an offender, follow any sentencing guidelines which are relevant to the offender’s case,
and
(b) must, in exercising any other function relating to the sentencing of offenders, follow any sentencing guidelines which are relevant to the exercise of the function, unless the court is satisfied that it would be contrary to the interests of justice to do so.”

This guideline applies only to offenders aged 18 and older. General principles to be considered in the sentencing of youths are in the Sentencing Guidelines Council’s definitive guideline, Overarching Principles – Sentencing Youths.

Structure, ranges and starting points

For the purposes of section 125(3)–(4) of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, the guideline specifies offence ranges – the range of sentences appropriate for each type of offence. Within each offence, the Council has specified a number of categories which reflect varying degrees of seriousness. The offence range is split into category ranges – sentences appropriate for each level of seriousness. The Council has also identified a starting point within each category.

Starting points define the position within a category range from which to start calculating the provisional sentence. The court should consider further features of the offence or the offender that warrant adjustment of the sentence within the range, including the aggravating and mitigating factors set out at step two. Starting points and ranges apply to all offenders, whether they have pleaded guilty or been convicted after trial. Credit for a guilty plea is taken into consideration only at step four in the decision making process, after the appropriate sentence has been identified.

Step 1 – Determining the offence category

The court should determine the offence category with reference only to the factors identified in the following tables. In order to determine the category the court should assess culpability and harm. The level of culpability is determined by weighing up all the factors of the case to determine the offender’s role and the extent to which the offending was planned and the sophistication with which it was carried out.

Culpability demonstrated by one or more of the following:

A – High culpability

  • A leading role where offending is part of a group activity
  • Involvement of others through coercion, intimidation or exploitation
  • Abuse of position of power or trust or responsibility
  • Professional and sophisticated offence
  • Advance knowledge of the primary offence
  • Possession of very recently stolen goods from a domestic burglary or robbery

B – Medium culpability

  • A significant role where offending is part of a group activity
  • Offender acquires goods for resale
  • All other cases where characteristics for categories A or C are not present

C – Lesser culpability

  • Performed limited function under direction
  • Involved through coercion, intimidation or exploitation
  • Little or no planning
  • Limited awareness or understanding of offence
  • Goods acquired for offender’s personal use

Where there are characteristics present which fall under different levels of culpability, the court should balance these characteristics to reach a fair assessment of the offender’s culpability.

Harm

Harm is assessed by reference to the financial value (to the loser) of the handled goods and any significant additional harm associated with the underlying offence on the victim or others – examples of additional harm may include but are not limited to:

  • Property stolen from a domestic burglary or a robbery (unless this has already been taken into account in assessing culpability)
  • Items stolen were of substantial value to the loser, regardless of monetary worth
  • Metal theft causing disruption to infrastructure
  • Damage to heritage assets

Category 1

  • Very high value goods stolen (above £100,000) or
  • High value with significant additional harm to the victim or others

Category 2

  • High value goods stolen (£10,000 to £100,000) and no significant additional harm or
  • Medium value with significant additional harm to the victim or others

Category 3

  • Medium value goods stolen (£1,000 to £10,000) and no significant additional harm or
  • Low value with significant additional harm to the victim or others

Category 4

  • Low value goods stolen (up to £1,000) and
  • Little or no significant additional harm to the victim or others

Step 2 – Starting point and category range

Having determined the category at step one, the court should use the starting point to reach a sentence within the appropriate category range in the table below. The starting point applies to all offenders irrespective of plea or previous convictions.

Harm Culpability
  A B C

Category 1

Where the value greatly exceeds £100,000, it may be appropriate to move outside the identified range. Adjustment should be made for any significant additional harm where very high value stolen goods are handled

Starting point

5 years’ custody

Category range

3 – 8 years’ custody

Starting point 

3 years’ custody

Category range

1 year 6 months’ – 4 years’ custody

Starting point

1 year’s custody

Category range

26 weeks’ – 1 year 6 months’ custody

Category 2

Starting point 

3 years’ custody

Category range

1 year 6 months’ – 4 years’ custody

Starting point

1 year’s custody

Category range

26 weeks’ – 1 year 6 months’ custody

Starting point

High level community order

Category range

Low level community order – 26 weeks’ custody

Category 3

Starting point 

1 year’s custody

Category range 

26 weeks’ – 2 years’ custody

Starting point 

High level community order

Category range 

Low level community order – 26 weeks’ custody

Starting point 

Band C fine

Category range 

Band B fine – Low level community order

Category 4

Starting point 

High level community order

Category range

Medium level community order – 26 weeks’ custody

Starting point

Low level community order

Category range 

Band C fine – High level community order

Starting point

Band B fine

Category range

Discharge – Band C fine

Band ranges
Starting point Range
Fine Band A  50% of relevant weekly income  25 – 75% of relevant weekly income
Fine Band B  100% of relevant weekly income  75 – 125% of relevant weekly income
Fine Band C  150% of relevant weekly income 125 – 175% of relevant weekly income
Fine Band D  250% of relevant weekly income 200 – 300% of relevant weekly income
Fine Band E 400% of relevant weekly income 300 – 500% of relevant weekly income
Fine Band F  600% of relevant weekly income  500 – 700% of relevant weekly income
Community orders table

The seriousness of the offence should be the initial factor in determining which requirements to include in a community order. Offence-specific guidelines refer to three sentencing levels within the community order band based on offence seriousness (low, medium and high). See below for non-exhaustive examples of requirements that might be appropriate in each.

At least one requirement MUST be imposed for the purpose of punishment and/or a fine imposed in addition to the community order unless there are exceptional circumstances which relate to the offence or the offender that would make it unjust in all the circumstances to do so. For further information see the Imposition guideline.

A suspended sentence MUST NOT be imposed as a more severe form of community order. A suspended sentence is a custodial sentence.

Low

Medium

High

Offences only just cross community order threshold, where the seriousness of the offence or the nature of the offender’s record means that a discharge or fine is inappropriate

In general, only one requirement will be appropriate and the length may be curtailed if additional requirements are necessary

Offences that obviously fall within the community order band

Offences only just fall below the custody threshold or the custody threshold is crossed but a community order is more appropriate in the circumstances

More intensive sentences which combine two or more requirements may be appropriate

Suitable requirements might include:

  • Any appropriate rehabilitative requirement(s)
  • 40 – 80 hours of unpaid work
  • Curfew requirement for example up to 16 hours per day for a few weeks
  • Exclusion requirement, for a few months
  • Prohibited activity requirement
  • Attendance centre requirement (where available)

Suitable requirements might include:

  • Any appropriate rehabilitative requirement(s)
  •  80 – 150 hours of unpaid work
  • Curfew requirement for example up to 16 hours for 2 – 3 months
  • Exclusion requirement lasting in the region of 6 months
  • Prohibited activity requirement

 

Suitable requirements might include:

  • Any appropriate rehabilitative requirement(s)
  • 150 – 300 hours of unpaid work
  • Curfew requirement for example up to 16 hours per day for 4 – 12 months
  • Exclusion requirement lasting in the region of 12 months

* If order does not contain a punitive requirement, suggested fine levels are indicated below:

BAND A FINE

BAND B FINE

BAND C FINE

Custodial sentences

The approach to the imposition of a custodial sentence should be as follows:

1) Has the custody threshold been passed?

  • A custodial sentence must not be imposed unless the offence or the combination of the offence and one or more offences associated with it was so serious that neither a fine alone nor a community sentence can be justified for the offence.
  • There is no general definition of where the custody threshold lies. The circumstances of the individual offence and the factors assessed by offence-specific guidelines will determine whether an offence is so serious that neither a fine alone nor a community sentence can be justified. Where no offence specific guideline is available to determine seriousness, the harm caused by the offence, the culpability of the offender and any previous convictions will be relevant to the assessment.
  • The clear intention of the threshold test is to reserve prison as a punishment for the most serious offences.

2) Is it unavoidable that a sentence of imprisonment be imposed?

  • Passing the custody threshold does not mean that a custodial sentence should be deemed inevitable. Custody should not be imposed where a community order could provide sufficient restriction on an offender’s liberty (by way of punishment) while addressing the rehabilitation of the offender to prevent future crime.
  • For offenders on the cusp of custody, imprisonment should not be imposed where there would be an impact on dependants which would make a custodial sentence disproportionate to achieving the aims of sentencing.

3) What is the shortest term commensurate with the seriousness of the offence?

  • In considering this the court must NOT consider any licence or post sentence supervision requirements which may subsequently be imposed upon the offender’s release.

4) Can the sentence be suspended?

  • A suspended sentence MUST NOT be imposed as a more severe form of community order. A suspended sentence is a custodial sentence. Sentencers should be clear that they would impose an immediate custodial sentence if the power to suspend were not available. If not, a non-custodial sentence should be imposed.

The following factors should be weighed in considering whether it is possible to suspend the sentence:

Factors indicating that it would not be appropriate to suspend a custodial sentence

Factors indicating that it may be appropriate to suspend a custodial sentence

Offender presents a risk/danger to the public

Realistic prospect of rehabilitation

Appropriate punishment can only be achieved by immediate custody

Strong personal mitigation

History of poor compliance with court orders

Immediate custody will result in significant harmful impact upon others

The imposition of a custodial sentence is both punishment and a deterrent. To ensure that the overall terms of the suspended sentence are commensurate with offence seriousness, care must be taken to ensure requirements imposed are not excessive. A court wishing to impose onerous or intensive requirements should reconsider whether a community sentence might be more appropriate.

Pre-sentence report

Whenever the court reaches the provisional view that:

  • the custody threshold has been passed; and, if so
  • the length of imprisonment which represents the shortest term commensurate with the seriousness of the offence;

the court should obtain a pre-sentence report, whether verbal or written, unless the court considers a report to be unnecessary. Ideally a pre-sentence report should be completed on the same day to avoid adjourning the case.

Magistrates: Consult your legal adviser before deciding to sentence to custody without a pre-sentence report.

For further information and sentencing flowcharts see the Imposition guideline.

Consecutive sentences for multiple offences may be appropriate – please refer to the Offences Taken Into Consideration and Totality guideline. The court should then consider further adjustment for any aggravating or mitigating factors. The following is a non-exhaustive list of additional factual elements providing the context of the offence and factors relating to the offender. Identify whether any combination of these, or other relevant factors, should result in an upward or downward adjustment from the starting point.

Factors increasing seriousness

Statutory aggravating factors

  • Previous convictions, having regard to a) the nature of the  offence to which the conviction relates and its relevance to the current offence; and b) the time that has elapsed since the conviction
  • Offence committed whilst on bail

Other aggravating factors

  • Seriousness of the underlying offence, for example, armed robbery
  • Deliberate destruction, disposal or defacing of stolen property
  • Damage to a third party
  • Failure to comply with current court orders
  • Offence committed on licence
  • Offences taken into consideration
  • Established evidence of community/wider impact

Factors reducing seriousness or reflecting personal mitigation

  • No previous convictions or no relevant/recent convictions
  • Good character and/or exemplary conduct
  • Serious medical condition requiring urgent, intensive or long-term treatment
  • Age and/or lack of maturity where it affects the responsibility of the offender
  • Mental disorder or learning disability
  • Sole or primary carer for dependent relatives
  • Determination and/or demonstration of steps having been taken to address addiction or offending behaviour

Step 3 – Consider any other factors which indicate a reduction, such as assistance to the prosecution

The court should take into account sections 73 and 74 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (assistance by defendants: reduction or review of sentence) and any other rule of law by virtue of which an offender may receive a discounted sentence in consequence of assistance given (or offered) to the prosecutor or investigator.

Step 4 – Reduction for guilty pleas

The court should take account of any potential reduction for a guilty plea in accordance with section 144 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and the Guilty Plea guideline.

Step 5 – Totality principle

If sentencing an offender for more than one offence, or where the offender is already serving a sentence, consider whether the total sentence is just and proportionate to the overall offending behaviour in accordance with the Offences Taken into Consideration and Totality guideline.

Step 6 – Confiscation, compensation and ancillary orders

The court must proceed with a view to making a confiscation order if it is asked to do so by the prosecutor or if the court believes it is appropriate for it to do so.

Where the offence has resulted in loss or damage the court must consider whether to make a compensation order.

If the court makes both a confiscation order and an order for compensation and the court believes the offender will not have sufficient means to satisfy both orders in full, the court must direct that the compensation be paid out of sums recovered under the confiscation order (section 13 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002).

The court may also consider whether to make ancillary orders. These may include a deprivation order, or a restitution order.

Step 7 – Reasons

Section 174 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 imposes a duty to give reasons for, and explain the effect of, the sentence.

Step 8 – Consideration for time spent on bail

The court must consider whether to give credit for time spent on bail in accordance with section 240A of the Criminal Justice Act 2003.