According to general receiving stolen property laws, it is a crime to accept or purchase any property which you believe or have actual knowledge that it was obtained through illegal means, such as theft. However, receiving stolen property is its own separate crime and thus should not be confused with the similar criminal acts of theft, robbery, or extortion.

Depending on the jurisdiction and the facts involved in a specific case, receiving stolen property may be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor offense. The rationale behind this criminal act is to deter people from rewarding and assisting thieves by purchasing or hiding stolen property, as well as to prevent occurrences of theft or larceny overall.

In order to be convicted on charges for receiving stolen property, a prosecutor will typically have to prove the following elements first:

  • The property must have been stolen before it was received;
  • The property must be received by some other individual aside from the thief who allegedly stole it;
  • The person who receives the stolen property must have either had actual knowledge or should have known that the property in question was stolen; and
  • The receiver must have possessed the intent to permanently deprive the rightful owner of their property (e.g., by keeping it, hiding it, selling it, giving it away, etc.).

Again, the rules and requirements for proving the crime of receiving stolen property will vary by jurisdiction. Thus, in some states, a prosecutor may need to demonstrate that the defendant aided a thief by accepting and/or purchasing the stolen goods. In addition, other states may distinguish between the act of possessing and receiving stolen property. 

Therefore, you should consider hiring a local criminal defense attorney immediately for further advice on the relevant laws in your state and to provide legal representation in criminal court if you are facing charges for receiving stolen property. It is especially important to hire an attorney for representation if the charges against you constitute a felony offense since the consequences for being convicted may include a term of imprisonment.

What If I Did Not Know That the Property Was Stolen?

As previously mentioned, the elements for the crime of receiving stolen property may vary by jurisdiction. However, the majority of states tend to focus on the following question: at what point during the transaction did the receiver figure out that the property was stolen? Most convictions will depend on whether the response to this question was at the time of receipt or while in possession of the stolen property.

For instance, if the receiver knew they were receiving stolen property at the time they accepted it from the thief, then they will likely be convicted if the prosecutor can prove all of the elements of this crime. A receiver can also be found guilty of possessing stolen property if they discovered it was stolen after they received it and continued to use it for a dishonest purpose that would further the crime, such as by selling it to an unsuspecting buyer.

In other words, knowledge is one of the key elements to proving this crime. It will also be much more difficult for the prosecutor to secure a conviction if the receiver genuinely had no knowledge that the property in question was stolen.

Can I Be Convicted of Receiving Stolen Property If I Planned to Return the Items?

In general, a receiver will not typically be convicted of receiving stolen property if they planned on returning the items to the rightful owner. The reason for this is because the prosecutor would not be able to prove that the receiver possessed the intent to deprive the rightful owner of their property and benefit from receiving the stolen items, which is one of the elements that must be met in order to prove this crime.

Depending on the facts of the case and the laws in the jurisdiction, the defendant may need to prove that they either had no knowledge that the property in question was stolen and/or that they did not possess the intent to conceal the fact that the property was owned by someone else. This is known as an affirmative defense, which can be helpful to raise if a defendant has substantial evidence to deny knowledge or intent.

What Are the Possible Consequences of Receiving Stolen Property?

As discussed above, the legal penalties for receiving stolen property charges will depend on the laws of the jurisdiction in which the crime occurred. The legal penalties may also be affected by the specific facts of an individual case as well as whether the receiver is charged with committing a felony or a misdemeanor offense. 

In most instances, however, receiving stolen property is classified as a “wobbler” offense. This means that the crime can either be charged as a felony or as a misdemeanor. The value of the stolen property in question will often dictate whether the crime should be charged as a felony or misdemeanor offense.

For example, if the stolen property is worth a lot of money, then the receiver will most likely be charged with a felony crime. On the other hand, if the value of the stolen property is inexpensive, then the defendant will probably be charged with a misdemeanor offense.

Regardless of what the receiver is charged with, they could potentially be facing the following legal punishments:

  • Having to serve a prison sentence;
  • Being ordered to pay restitution to any victims hurt by the receiver’s actions;
  • Having to abide by probation guidelines (e.g., curfew, drug tests, treatment, etc.); or
  • Having to pay criminal monetary fines (depending on the value of the property in question). 

In most cases, a first-time offender will only be required to pay criminal fines. For example, if the offender was charged and convicted of this crime as a misdemeanor offense, then they would likely be fined no more than $1,000 for the stolen property. In contrast, if the offender was charged and convicted of this crime as a felony offense, then they would likely be fined $1,000 or more for the stolen property. 

Additionally, it is important to note that a defendant may face harsher punishments and may be charged with committing a felony crime if they are considered to be a repeat offender, as opposed to a first-time offender. This is because first-time offenders usually receive less severe forms of punishment, so that they have a chance to prove they can redeem themselves.

What Are Possible Defenses against an Accusation of Receiving Stolen Property?

There are a number of legal defenses that may be available to a defendant who has been charged with the crime of receiving stolen goods. Whether a defense is applicable to a receiver’s case will depend on the laws in their jurisdiction, the nature of the crime, and the circumstances surrounding their individual case. Some examples of legal defenses that are commonly raised in cases involving accusations of receiving stolen property include:

  • Incapacity;
  • Entrapment;
  • Intoxication; 
  • Insufficient evidence;
  • Lack of proof; and/or
  • Insanity.

What Happens When Stolen Property Is Found?

Some things that can happen when stolen property is found include:

  • The receiver can be sued both civilly and criminally for not reporting the stolen property to the police;
  • The receiver may be able to hold the seller or thief liable for giving them stolen property;
  • The receiver can be punished if they are convicted of this crime;
  • The thief can also be charged and punished accordingly if the individual can be found; 
  • The receiver may be cleared of the crime if they did not know that the property was stolen; and/or
  • If the receiver is convicted of receiving stolen property, then the crime will appear on their criminal record. 

Do I Need a Lawyer If I am Accused of Receiving Stolen Property?

If you have been accused of the crime of receiving stolen property, then it is strongly recommended that you hire a local criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. An experienced criminal defense attorney can assist you in building a solid defensive argument against the charges and can provide legal representation in criminal court. 

Your attorney can also explain how the laws in your jurisdiction may affect the outcome of your case, along with any rights, options, and/or legal defenses you may have under such laws. In addition, your attorney can draft any legal documents that may be necessary to your case and can file them in court on your behalf.