Legal facts

Some general explanations:


Receiving Stolen Property:

While theft is a universally understood crime, not everyone knows that you can also commit a theft crime if you acquire stolen or illegally obtained goods. Though each state has its own laws and terminology, all states, and the federal government criminalize the receipt of stolen property.


What Is Receipt of Stolen Property?


Receipt of stolen property, also known as possession of stolen property or goods, occurs whenever you knowingly purchase, obtain, receive, or possess any property knowing (or should know) is stolen with the intent of depriving the owner of the property.


For example, if you buy a television from a friend who tells you that he stole it from his employer, you are guilty of receiving stolen property. Also, if you buy the television from a stranger selling electronics from the back of a van, you are also guilty of the crime because a reasonable person in your situation would suspect the TV was stolen. Further, if you receive property as a gift or store it in your home, knowing that it's stolen or under circumstances that should have alerted you to its stolen nature, you've also committed a crime.


Property the Defendant "Should Have Known" Was Stolen:


When prosecutors can prove that a defendant knew that the property was stolen, it's pretty easy to establish this part of their case. But as explained above, the crime of receiving stolen property can also occur when a defendant obtains property that, given the circumstances, should have alerted him to its stolen nature. Cases that rest on proving that the defendant "should have known" the property was stolen are less straightforward than those that involve property the defendant knew was stolen.


In a case involving a "should have known" situation, a prosecutor must show that a reasonable person would have suspected the items were stolen. The "reasonable person" standard means that, if an average person in the defendant's situation would have been suspicious of the goods, the defendant should be suspect of them as well. That's all the prosecutor needs to show. In other words, the defendant's willful ignorance of the facts or naivete won't help him if a reasonable person in his situation would have concluded that the goods were stolen. If the defendant acquires the items anyway and they turn out to be stolen, the defendant is guilty of receipt of stolen property.


For example, let's say a man approaches you and asks if you'd like to buy some premium jewelry for very cheap prices. He shows you a collection of necklaces, rings, and watches in a brown paper bag. None of the jewelry has sales tags or packaging. In this situation, any reasonable person would suspect that the items were stolen. By purchasing them, you commit the crime of receiving stolen property.


However, the "should have known" standard can also work to the defendant's advantage. You would not be guilty of receiving stolen property if there was no reasonable way for you to know the property was stolen. For example, if you go to a store and buy a package of batteries that later turn out to have been stolen by the shop owner, you are not guilty of possessing stolen goods because you had no way to know that the batteries were stolen.


"Possession" of the Property:


Defendants won't be guilty of the crime of receiving stolen property if they did not know the property was in their possession. For example, suppose you purchase luggage at an estate sale, find some jewelry hidden away in its lining, and only later discover it was stolen. You have not committed the crime of possession of stolen property. Though you knowingly purchased the luggage, you didn't know that it contained stolen property. While you have a duty to return the jewelry to its rightful owner or the police, you have not stolen it or received it as stolen property.


Although the property must be received by the defendant, he need not take actual physical custody of it—having control over it is sufficient. For instance, if you allow someone to deposit stolen merchandise in a place of your choosing, such as a designated hiding spot, you've exercised control over it, which will suffice for "receiving."


Intending to Keep the Property:


Finally, prosecutors in some states must prove that the defendant intended to keep the property or, at least, deprive the owner of it. Otherwise, a police officer who takes stolen property from a suspect could be guilty of receiving stolen property. Some states solve this problem by handling the "return" issue in the definition of the crime, specifying that a person commits the crime when he receives stolen property without the intent of returning it to its owner.


Penalties for Receiving Stolen Property:


Like other property crimes, penalties for receiving stolen property depend largely on the property's value and the laws of the state where you received the property. Some state's theft or larceny offenses cover the offense of receiving stolen property, while others might designate it as a separate crime. States categorize crimes as either misdemeanors or felonies. A misdemeanor generally carries with it the potential for fines and up to a year in a local jail, while felonies come with much higher fines and the potential for more than a year in a state prison.


The dividing line (or monetary threshold) between what is a misdemeanor and felony differs by state. Some states start felony offenses at $500 or $1,000; others set the threshold higher. Possession of stolen goods can also be a felony based on the type of property. For example, possessing an illegally obtained credit card may constitute a felony even if you never use it to make purchases.


Here are examples of possible criminal penalties:


Fines for receipt of stolen property differ widely from state to state. They can range from several hundred dollars to many thousands of dollars. The more valuable the property you receive, the higher the fine will usually be. In some states, the judge can impose a fine that is double or triple the amount of the defendant's financial gain from the crime.


Like fines, the length of a jail sentence for possession of stolen goods depends on the value of the property. Sentences range from a few days in jail to several years in state prison. Sentences can also be increased if you have prior convictions for receipt of stolen property or other crimes.


In addition to any fine, a person convicted of receiving stolen property often has to pay restitution. Restitution is money you pay to the legal owners of the stolen goods to compensate them for their loss.


Courts may also sentence you to probation. Probation allows a defendant to serve a portion or all of a sentence in the community. When sentenced to probation, the court makes specific terms and rules that you have to follow, such as meeting with a probation officer regularly, maintaining employment, and not committing any more crimes. If you violate these rules, you might have to serve the original jail or prison sentence.



An example with Florida:


Dealing in stolen property in Florida is a serious crime, however in some instances a person who had no idea they were dealing in stolen property—and who has never been in trouble with the law before—can find themselves in legal hot water. Under Florida law, it is a criminal offense for any person to deal in property he or she knows—or reasonably should know—is stolen. The crime is a second-degree felony under Florida statute 812.019(1), with severe penalties up to 15 years in prison. When a person is accused of distributing, transferring, selling or otherwise disposing of stolen property, the Florida prosecutor must establish the following two elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • The accused attempted to traffic in or endeavored to traffic in the alleged stolen property and
  • The accused knew, or should have known, the property was stolen.

Anything of value, including real property is encompassed by the term “property.” This can include anything which grows on, is affixed to, or is found on land, as well as tangible or intangible personal property. Included with tangible or intangible personal property are the claims, services, interests, rights or privileges associated with that property.

“Trafficking” means you sold or otherwise disposed of the property, or that you bought, sold, received, possessed, obtained control of, or used the property in question with a clear intention of selling, transferring, distributing, dispensing or otherwise disposing of the property. By and large, dealing in stolen property charges are usually leveled at those who pawn items for cash. Since wealthy people go to the bank if they need money, such charges are disproportionately leveled at the poor.

Strangely, as a crime which is a second-degree felony and can result in up to 15 years in prison, and a fine as large as $10,000, the value of the property is not part of the equation—pawning a stolen $15 ring is the same crime as pawning a stolen $40,000 ring. One of the key factors involved in the Florida crime of dealing in stolen property hinges on the defendant’s explanation of how he or she came to possess the stolen items.

In fact, a required element in the prosecution of the crime Dealing in Stolen Property, is proof of knowledge the items were stolen, however that “proof”can be inferred.

  • Unless there is a satisfactory explanation to indicate otherwise, possession of recently stolen property infers the defendant knew or should have known the property was stolen.
  • Unless there is a satisfactory explanation to indicate otherwise, the purchase or sale of the stolen property at a price which is significantly below fair market value will infer the defendant knew or should have known the property was stolen.
  • In the context of a stolen motor vehicle, if the ignition mechanism has been bypassed, then it can be inferred—absent a satisfactory explanation by the defendant—that the defendant knew or should have known the vehicle was stolen.

The Florida Department of Corrections released Florida sentencing guidelines in the form of a scoresheet preparation manual. When a person is arrested for a felony crime, that crime is assigned a certain level as a primary offense. The level is then assigned a specific number of points. Should the defendant score above 44 points, he or she will be sentenced to time in a Florida state prison for a certain number of months—unless the Judge makes the decision to adjust the number of months downward, based on mitigating circumstances.

Dealing in stolen property is a level 5 offense, and a second-degree felony (with a level 10 offense being the most serious). A level 5 offense, under the scoresheet preparation manual’s sentencing guidelines, is assigned 28 points. Each additional offense charged at the same time will add 5.6 points per offense for the level five offense.  A prior criminal record can add additional points to that total, and a legal status violation will add an additional four points (escape, fleeing, failure to appear, incarceration, pretrial intervention or diversion program, etc.).

Thirty points can be added to the total for a prior serious felony conviction. Enhancements can also add additional points. The basic formula is total points minus 28 x .75 = total number of months in prison.  Therefore, as an example, a conviction for dealing in stolen property, which had three additional offenses, a prior criminal record on the part of the defendant and a prior serious felony conviction could look something like this:  28 + 5.6 + 5.6 + 5.6 + 3.6 + 30 = 78.4 – 28 = 50.4 x .75 = 37.8 months in state prison.