Looking under the bonnet at unlawful use of a motor vehicle offences
The Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council’s research reveals that a custodial penalty was imposed for almost 50 per cent of adults and 12 per cent of children sentenced for unlawful use of a motor vehicle offences between July 2005 and June 2020.
This is much higher than the percentage of offenders who are sentenced to custodial penalties across all offence types in Queensland, with 10.5 per cent of adults and 7.8 per cent of children and young people sentenced to custodial penalties across all offence types in Queensland.
Queensland Sentencing Council Chair, John Robertson, said the Council’s new Sentencing Spotlight on unlawful use of a motor vehicle examined 15 years of sentencing outcomes data with a total of 16,022 cases sentenced in Queensland where unlawful use of a motor vehicle (UUMV) was the most serious offence heard at the sentencing event.*
“A person can be guilty of the offence either by unlawfully using a motor vehicle without consent, or by possessing one without consent and acting in a way to deprive the owner or other person with lawful possession of it.
“A person who is a passenger in a vehicle he or she knows to be stolen is also guilty of the offence.” Mr Robertson said.
The Sentencing Spotlight on unlawful use of a motor vehicle identified an increase in the rate of UUMV offences committed by young offenders sentenced for the crime.
“The rate of sentenced young offenders – people aged between 10 and 17 years old – more than doubled in the 15-year time period, increasing from 103.7 young offenders per 100,000 sentenced in 2005–06 to 211.4 per 100,000 young offenders sentenced in 2018–19,” Mr Robertson said.
“During this time period we also saw the rate of adult offenders sentenced for unlawful use of a motor vehicle increase, rising from 47.9 adult offenders per 100,000 sentenced in 2005–06 to 64.4 adults per 100,000 sentenced in 2018–19.”
Mr Robertson said it is important to note that the Council’s data only covers a 15-year period, from 2005 to 2020.
Statistics published by the Queensland Government Statistician's Office on the number of crimes reported to police shows that, from 1999–2000 to 2018–19, there was a significant decline in the rate of UUMV offences over a 20-year period — from a peak of 582 offences per 100,000 persons in 2000–01 to 297 offences per 100,000 persons in 2018–19.
“The most common penalty for adult offenders sentenced for unlawful use of a motor vehicle was imprisonment, with 35.8 per cent of the adult offenders sentenced receiving a prison sentence,” Mr Robertson said.
“For children and young people, probation (22.3%) and community service (21.0%) were the most common penalties imposed.”
The Council found a third of offenders were repeat offenders, having been sentenced for UUMV on at least two occasions.
Mr Robertson said the maximum penalty for unlawful use of a motor vehicle is seven years imprisonment but, where there are circumstances of aggravation, the maximum penalty can increase to 10 or 12 years depending on the circumstances involved.
“The presence of aggravating circumstances, such as destroying, damaging or interfering with parts of the vehicle, tends to increase courts’ use of more severe penalties and the length of these sentences,” Mr Robertson said.
Adult offenders with cases involving aggravating circumstances typically had an increased chance of being sentenced to imprisonment (42.4% of those sentenced compared to 35.4% for non-aggravated UUMV) and being ordered to serve a longer sentence (an average of 12.8 months. compared to 9.9 months for non-aggravated UUMV).
Mr Robertson said the same trends were evident for offences committed by children and young people — with the presence of aggravating circumstances increasing the likelihood of young offenders receiving a detention order or conditional release order and longer average sentence lengths.
Download a free copy of the Sentencing Spotlight on unlawful use of a motor vehicle.
* There were 41,336 cases involving the unlawful use of a motor vehicle (UUMV) between 2005–06 and 2019–20. For 16,022 (38.8%) of those cases, unlawful use of a motor vehicle was their most serious offence (MSO) heard at the sentencing event. This Sentencing Spotlight focuses primarily on the 16,022 cases where UUMV was the MSO.