Receiving stolen property is a crime to purchase or accept property that you know or believe was obtained through theft. The crime is separate from robbery, extortion, or theft. Receiving stolen property is a crime in order to deter people from aiding or rewarding thieves by buying stolen property, concealing stolen property, and to deter theft in general. Receiving stolen property may be a misdemeanor or felony. In order to be convicted of receiving stolen property, the prosecution must show:

  • Property Was In Fact Stolen: In order to be convicted of a receipt of stolen property, the property must actually be in a stolen status. This means that the police cannot set up the defendant to receive the stolen property just to bust him or her.
  • Knowledge: The defendant must have knowledge that the property was stolen, or should have known, that the property was stolen
  • Intent to Defraud Owner: The defendant had intent to deprive the owner of his or her property, such as by keeping it, selling it, or giving it away to another party

In some states, the prosecution must show that you intended to aid the thief by purchasing or accepting the stolen property. Some states also differentiate between receiving and possessing stolen property.

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

The key factor between receiving and possessing stolen property is the timing of the knowledge that it was stolen. If the person receiving the property knew it was stolen at the time of acquisition, then the person is guilty. If the person discovered the property was stolen after accepting it, but still intends to keep it or use it for a dishonest purpose (such as selling it to someone else), then the person is guilty of possessing stolen property.

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

No. Anyone accepting or purchasing stolen property with the intent to give it back to the lawful owner is not guilty of receiving stolen property. This is because they lack the intent to benefit from receiving the stolen items.

What are the Possible Consequences of Receiving Stolen Property?

Receipt of stolen property is categorized as a "wobbler" meaning that the charge can be a felony or misdemeanor. A charge for a receipt of stolen property charge depends on the value of the property at issue. If the property has a high value, the defendant would be charged a felony. If the property value is low, the defendant would be charged as a misdemeanor. If you are found guilty, the court may do any or all of the following: 

  • Imprisonment
  • Restitution
  • Fines (depending on the value of the property)
  • Probation

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

Receiving stolen property is a theft crime, and every defense available for such crimes can be used, although the success of any specific defense will depend on the laws of the state and severity of the crime. Generally, these defenses include: 

  • Insufficient evidence – To be successfully convicted of receiving stolen property, the property received must in fact be stolen, and the defendant must either know or should have known it was stolen. Mere possession of stolen property is not enough evidence to convict, although it may be a crime itself. Additionally, possession may indicate that the person knew or should have known the property was stolen. For example, buying goods from the back of a van in a dark alley would lead most people to believe the property was stolen, and a prosecutor will likely make this argument.
  • EntrapmentEntrapment occurs when the government compels an innocent person to commit a crime they would have otherwise not committed. However, entrapment is a difficult defense, and simply being offered an opportunity to perform the illegal act does not constitute entrapment.
  • Insanity – An insanity defense allows a person to claim they were legally insane, either at the time of the offense or during trial. Insanity is possible defense, but it is an incredibly complicated and difficult defense. As a result, the time and effort it takes to put forth an insanity defense are only justified for more serious crimes, and this defense is not used often in receiving stolen property cases.
  • Incapacity – This is different from insanity, and maybe more likely to work if the defendant wishes to bring up their mental state as a defense. For example, if the defendant is an adult but has the educational ability of a minor, they may be considered legally incapacitated.
  • Intoxication – Voluntary intoxication (by drugs or alcohol) is almost never a defense to a crime. The idea behind that rule is if a person voluntarily chooses to become intoxicated, they should know they may act differently, and therefore will be held liable for all of their behavior. As long as the circumstances show that a sober person would have known the property was stolen, not knowing it was stolen because someone was drunk will not work. Involuntary intoxication, on the other hand, may be a successful defense.

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

If you are facing or may be facing criminal prosecution for receiving stolen property, you should consult with an criminal defense lawyer immediately. The best way to determine how successful any of these defenses will be is to consult with a lawyer. A criminal defense lawyer can analyze your situation, explain your options, and determine the best defenses to pursue.