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Is property damage a criminal Offence?

Threatening to destroy or damage property is a crime, but defences are available that might be used to establish innocence

It is an offence in New South Wales to:

  • threaten to destroy or damage another person’s property, or
  • threaten to destroy or damage property owned by the person making the threat if doing so would probably injure or endanger another person.

The offence is defined by section 199 of the Crimes Act 1900.

A conviction carries a maximum sentence of 5 years. If the threat is made during a time of public disorder, however, the maximum increases to 7 years.

Proof of the offence threatening to property damage

The government must prove that

  • the accused made an actual threat;
  • the accused intended to cause the person to whom the threat was made to fear that it would be carried out; and
  • one of the following is true:
  • the threat involved the destruction or damage of another person’s property, or
  • the threat involved the destruction of property owned by the person making the threat in a way that would probably injure or endanger another person.

If the government charges that the offence was made during a time of public disorder, it must prove that a civil disturbance, such as a riot, was underway when the threat was made.

Examples of the offense threatening to damage a property

The law can be used to charge an accused for making terrorist threats, but it is broadly written to apply to ordinary threats.

For example, the law was recently used to charge a man who allegedly threatened to set fire to the car of his former business partner.

Not every threat needs to be communicated in words. For example, holding an axe over another person’s car might be enough to communicate a threat to damage the car.

Possible defences

An actual threat is the communication of an intent to cause harm. The threat only violates section 199 if it is intended to cause the listener to fear that the threat will be carried out.

Not every comment made in anger is an actual threat. “I’d like to burn down that guy’s house” might convey displeasure, but if the speaker does not expect his words to be taken seriously, he has not communicated an actual threat.

In addition to arguing that the accused’s words or actions did not constitute an actual threat, defences can be based on:

  • Mistake (the witness misheard or misunderstood what the accused said).
  • False accusation (the witness is trying to make trouble for the accused by inventing a threat that was never made).
  • Lawful excuse (threatening to kill the neighbor’s dog might be lawful if the dog is poised to attack the person making the threat).
  • No intent to communicate (the speaker did not know anyone was listening to him when he spoke the words).

 A lawyer is in the best position to decide whether a strong defence can be asserted to overcome the accusation.

Disclaimer : This article is just a summary of the subject matter being discussed and should not be regarded as a comprehensive legal advice for you to defend yourself alone. If you are charged with criminal offences, it is recommended that you seek legal assistance from criminal lawyers.

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