Offenses of Dishonesty

Offences of dishonesty include theft, robbery, blackmail, burglary, handling stolen goods, money laundering, conspiracy to defraud and fraud, bribery and corruption, impersonating a public officer, proceeds of crime, taking a conveyance without consent, false certificates by public officers, abuse of authority, fabricating evidence, false swearing, deceiving witnesses, destroying evidence. This list is not exhaustive.

For purposes of this article only the offences of theft and robbery will receive a measure of detail.

The definition of theft is found in section 265 of the Penal Code. The provision was put in place before it was conceivable that one could hold and transfer money and other items electronically. This offence is intricate and it is covered from section 264 to section 291 of the Penal Code. The provisions list things that can be stolen and how the offence is committed.

What can be stolen? Any object (inanimate thing) which is movable and is the property of any person can be stolen. An abandoned pen (or thrown away) cannot be stolen. A pen belonging to someone can be stolen; in this instance the pen is an object, it is movable, and it belongs to someone. For it to be stolen it must be moved. The intention for moving it matters and this is where “dishonesty” comes in.

One who takes a pen with the intention of permanently depriving the owner of it steals it. If the pen is taken with the intention of putting it up as security, it is stolen.

In the case of money, a person steals it if he/she takes it with an intention to use it at will, although he/she may intend afterwards to repay the amount to the owner. A shop assistant who takes K100 from the till in the evening to use it to buy food on the way home with the intention of replacing the money the following morning is guilty of theft.

Dishonesty is to act without honesty. It is used to describe being deliberately deceptive. What is the yardstick by which an act is considered to be “honest” or “dishonest”? The actions of a person are dishonest by the lay objective standards of ordinary, reasonable and honest people.

A person cannot refer to his/her own personal belief about what reasonable people think. E.g. Young people are more prone to violence than old people and when people grow old there is a belief that they become witches/ wizards.

Dishonesty is the fundamental component of a majority of offences relating to acquisition, conversion and disposal of property.

Domestic animals are capable of being stolen. Wild animals that have been confined are capable of being stolen. Wild animals in the enjoyment of their natural liberty are not capable of being stolen. However, wild animals are protected by other laws that deal with conservation and poaching.

If your employer owes you money in unpaid salaries and you go and take a computer, you will not be guilty of theft. You have what is called a bona fide claim of right.

The general punishment for theft is imprisonment for 5 years. However the term may vary owing to the circumstances of the theft or the nature of the thing stolen. For instance stealing a will or postal matter (letters, parcels etc) makes the offender liable to imprisonment for 10 years. Stealing a horse, ostrich, goat or pig makes the offender liable to imprisonment for 15 years as a first offender and a minimum of 7 years as a second or subsequent offender

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