Criminal Law

Receiving or Possessing Stolen Property

It’s illegal to receive or possess property knowing or having reason to know the property is stolen.

Theft and robbery are well-known offenses that involve stealing property. A lesser-known, related offense occurs when another person accepts, conceals, or buys the stolen property. This offense is simply called “receiving or possessing stolen property.” For a conviction, the following elements must typically be proven:

  • receipt or possession of stolen property
  • knowing or having reason to know the property was stolen or illegally obtained, and
  • intent to deprive the owner possession of the property.

All states and the federal government criminalize receiving stolen property.

Receipt or possession. States define the crime of receiving stolen property differently and, in some cases, have separate crimes for receipt and possession. But generally, a crime occurs if a person accepts, possesses, transfers, buys, or conceals stolen property.

Knows or should know. In certain instances, the prosecution can prove that the person knew the goods were stolen. If not, the prosecution can argue that the person should have known the goods were stolen. In such a case, the person may not be able to avoid prosecution by feigning ignorance if circumstances suggested that the item was stolen. Some states utilize a reasonable person standard to determine what the person should have known. The reasonable person standard looks at what an ordinary, rational person would conclude under similar circumstances.

Intent to deprive the owner of possession. Some states also require proof that the defendant intended to keep, sell, or otherwise dispose of the stolen property for dishonest purposes. In other words, the defendant did not intend to return the property to its rightful owner.

The penalties for receiving stolen property vary by state. Often, the severity of the penalty depends on the value of the stolen goods (similar to theft penalties). For example, if the stolen goods are worth less than $500, the penalty is likely a misdemeanor. If the stolen goods are valued at or above $10,000, the defendant likely faces felony charges. (Read about the differences between misdemeanors and felonies.) In addition, the defendant might have to pay restitution to the owner of the property. (Restitution represents the monetary losses to the victim.)

To learn more about theft laws and punishments in your state, consult an experienced criminal defense attorney.

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