Sentencing Trends (Part I)


The current criminal justice sentencing trends in Victoria are forever evolving. Discover how Magistrates & Judges in Victoria are sentencing convicted persons.


The Criminology & Criminal Justice journal recently published an article by Emmeline Taylor of the Australian National University entitled “Supermarket self-checkouts and retail theft: The curious case of the SWIPERS”. Primarily, the article looked at whether the use of Self-Checkouts (SCO) cause theft amongst otherwise honest customers who would not steal in any other circumstances.

SCO technology has been used increasingly since 1992. Today it is a common feature of many retail shops and features most prominently in most major supermarkets. In fact, some ‘assisted service stores’ feature only SCO and no cashier staff.

Even from a lay perspective, it would seem a logical conclusion that transferring the responsibility and onus of properly administering the checkout process from cashier staff to the customer would correlate in an increase in theft, purely on account of the lack of supervision involved in SCO transactions. No doubt this would have been well accounted for by supermarkets and the like, and balanced against the savings to be made in reduced wages as staff numbers are reduced.

In fact, the article referred to a separate study by IBM which found that “if one store assistant can effectively manage four or more SCO lanes, 75% or more of that cost can be returned to the bottom line for each transaction completed”. Furthermore, staff have often found to be the cause of much store theft themselves through what is referred to as ‘sweet-heartening’; the “unauthorised giving away of goods without charge to friends, co-workers or family, a practice to which two thirds of participants in a 2012 study admitted to doing in the previous two months. In light of these figures, it becomes understandable then that a company may tolerate an increase in customer theft from stores where the cost is outweighed made by savings on staff and reduced theft elsewhere.

In order to deeper examine the correlation between SCO and rise in shop theft, the article analyses the different types of “seemingly well-intended patrons engaging in routine shopping”, or SWIPERS. It identifies those who are accidental, switching, compensating and irritated or frustrated.

According to the data available, over half of shoppers surveyed who admitted to stealing goods claim that when they first stole, it was by accident. Upon realising how easy it was to take the goods without paying however, they continued to steal regularly. The article points to this data supporting a claim that “individuals who get away with stealing without punishment are likely to lower their risk assessment and continue to commit the crime, thus creating a symbolic spiral of escalating criminality”.

Secondly, switchers are those who commit what the article refers to as ‘discount theft’ by scanning another cheaper product instead of the one they are actually walkout of the store with. It proposes that these offenders would not otherwise consider stealing if it were not for the SCO (or rather the opportunities for theft that SCO afford) and often view their actions as cheating or similar rather than stealing, as they are still paying something for the goods.

Compensating SWIPERS the article suggests are a cohort who are motivated to steal through a sense of entitlement and by way of construing the theft as some form of political act or justified as “deserved recompense” and therefore not a crime. This is often linked to the reduction of staff in supermarkets in particular, and from experiencing difficulties during the checkout process using SCO. Compensators regularly display behaviour neutralisation such as using the justifications above to allow themselves to continue adhering with society’s values of right and wrong.

Finally, the irritated and frustrated thief. Similar to compensators, the article describes these shoplifters as relying upon the failings associated with SCO to justify theft of goods. It questions how genuine difficulties such as ‘the item would not scan’ and ‘I could not find the correct vegetable’ which are oft cited are in reality, or whether they are simply products of excuse making behaviour.

From a Criminal Law perspective, the reasons or excuses that people steal are somewhat less grey. To be found guilty of a charge of theft, the Prosecution must be able to establish that the accused person appropriately property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other and have done so dishonestly. With respect to SWIPERS, it would generally not be in issue that property was taken, which belonged to the retailer. The issues would lie in whether the accused person dishonestly intended to take the item or items when they failed to pay at the SCO and left the store. This is likely an area to engage a Melbourne criminal lawyer to argue.

For the most part, retailers and supermarkets in particular have shown that they would rather contact the person who left the store without paying and seek that they return the goods or pay than involve the police “where there is any doubt about intention”, meaning that these cases are not often seen before the Courts.

The study ultimately poses the question, will society’s normalising of this manner of theft as a minor and harmless activity disperse into other consumer-orientation payment systems? It quotes a previous assertion made in 1970 that “there is a little larceny in everyone” and it would be hard to argue that the implementation of SCO has provided greater opportunity for theft. The bottom line however is that the large majority of these scenarios are examples of thefts.

If you want to talk to a Criminal lawyer in Melbourne about any of the above, or for a free case assessment, please call us on 9670 1550 or email to


Shoppers who steal groceries by not scanning them at supermarket self-service checkouts now have a name - they're called 'swipers'. Are shoppers the new scammers in 2016?

The University of Melbourne Faculty of Business & Economics recently released a working paper entitled Vocational Education and Training: A Pathway to the Straight and Narrow.

The paper looks at the connection, if any, between post tertiary education and crime rates by taking advantage of Vocational Education and Training (VET) reform in Victoria between 2010 and 2013 in what it calls a ‘natural experiment’. VET is the main channel for further education for early school leavers, school graduates not attending university, and mature-aged people returning to study.

It cites four channels via which education is thought to reduce crime. They are:

  1. Obtaining legitimate work through education can lead to future earns and prevent persons turning to crime to source income,
  2. The classroom environment promotes pro-social norms which improves behaviour in the real world,
  3. Education can assist in the development of skills such as patience or risk aversion which reduces involvement in crime, and
  4. Simply, time in the classroom can have an “incapacitating” effect on crime.

The paper calls for ‘causal evidence’ as there are reasons to believe that the crime-reducing benefits of vocational education may be minute. One particular explanation is that offering improved employment opportunities can be countered by an increase in criminal activity in the “concentration of disadvantaged people”, as has been found in past educational interventions.


The study compared Victoria’s early adoption of a National reform to NSW’ supply-driven funding model. The former saw a 75% increase in students between 2010 and 2013 whilst the latter displayed standard growth rates. By then correlating postcode data with respect to VET enrolments and crime statistics across three age groups (16-25, 26-34 and 35-44), the study found reductions in person (primarily assault), property (primarily theft) and drug (primarily use and possession) crime between 4.5% and 12.8%. Finally, these reductions were measured against the cost of crime to the community through lost productivity and health costs with the ultimate conclusion being that for every dollar spent expanding VET education, the community saved 18 cents or a saving of $72 million dollars.

VET Structure

Under the former supply driven model, a fixed number of government funded places in various VET courses were offered generally on a ‘first com first serve’ basis, though preference was in some instances given to recent early school leavers.

In 2008 a national agreement was struck between the state, territory and federal governments to introduce a demand based system for VET enrolments to increase participation. Victoria was the first state to implement the reforms, fully commencing its uncapped entitlement scheme in 2010. In short, the scheme makes VET far more accessible as its allocations are open as opposed to the old model where positions were fixed.


Perhaps unsurprisingly, the greatest increases were seen in participation were for males (97%) in the youngest age bracket (132%).

The study’s results with respect to drug crime juxtaposes a previous 2014 study which found “no significant effect on drug crime from increases in minimum schooling”. Interestingly, it found that despite a doubling in the participation rate for young people, the comparable decrease in drug related crime was far less than that seen in the reductions for prime-aged and mature-aged groups. One explanation for this was that “crime at this age is driven more by social networks than future labour market opportunities”

Whilst some of the findings may appear obvious at first glance, the study is one of few with respect to size, time and the ‘natural experiment’ which was uncapped VET placements in Victoria measured against a comparable sample (socio-economically, politically, and structurally) in NSW which retained the existing supply model.

Due to the costs associated with supporting such a large increase in VET enrolments, the Victorian government has altered its funding model since 2013 to target the entitlement at specific occupations. As a result, VET participation has fallen.

Our experiences

We often encourage clients, and particularly young clients, to engage in educational programs and commonly refer to their participation as a mitigating factor in a criminal plea. In addition to the four points raised by the paper above, it can demonstrate to a Court that the client is motivated to alter their behaviour for the better and has a future goal to work towards and focus their energies upon. Further, an unfortunate reality of having a criminal record is that it can hinder employment prospects. Any form of education, and particularly that undertaken post offending can go a long way to countering that disadvantage.

Click here for a copy of the paper “Vocational Education and Training: A Pathway to the Straight and Narrow”

If you want to talk to a Criminal lawyer in Melbourne about any of the above, or for a free case assessment, please call us on 9670 1550 or email to


We often encourage clients, and particularly young clients, to engage in educational programs and commonly refer to their participation as a mitigating factor in a criminal plea.


If you are served with an Unlawful Association Notice, under the Criminal Organisations Control Act, call Melbourne’s Best Criminal Lawyers for advice.


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