What are the laws against looting?
Following a natural disaster, or other devastating events, it is not uncommon for people to take to the streets and homes of those impacted. During this ‘looting’, some will only take necessities like food, water, and toilet paper they require to survive, but more often than not, looters are people actually taking items of value like televisions, computers, jewellery that have been left behind while the occupants flee for safety. Looters are the sad element of society prepared to steal the property of evacuated and absent victims who begin taking almost anything.
Since police are often busy dealing with the fallout of the natural disaster or event that has recently occurred, there is a strong possibility that looters may never be identified or caught.
In order to convict a person for looting, a court must prove that:
- The property is a thing capable of being stolen;
- The property is owned by a person;
- No consent was given by the owner to take the property
- There must also have been some physical act of moving or dealing with the property in order to ‘take’ it
- There must have been some fraudulent intent to permanently deprive the owner of the thing taken; and
- The offence is committed during a natural disaster, civil unrest or an industrial dispute.
Penalties for looting
Looters should be warned; the penalties are likely to be very tough. You are likely to receive very little sympathy from the Courts.
In Queensland and most other Australian states and territories, looting is a more serious offence than just ‘stealing’. If you are to take advantage of people during natural disasters, you are facing a serious offence. Stealing during a natural disaster can attract a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment, double the 5 year maximum for the general offence of stealing.
Possible defences for looting
As mentioned previously, the chances of a defence are slim if the court has understood you to have looted during a natural disaster or major event. However, a person charged with the offence of looting have the range of potential defences and excuses available to them including an honest claim of right or mistake of fact.
Next steps and further assistance
If you are arrested and accused of a crime, it is vitally important that you contact an experienced criminal defence solicitor. Your solicitor will be able to help you navigate the criminal justice system with regards to the charges against you.