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
Can I Be Convicted of Receiving Stolen Property If I Planned to Return the
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
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
- 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
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
Some examples of legal defenses that are commonly raised in cases involving
accusations of receiving stolen property include:
- Insufficient evidence;
- Lack of proof; and/or
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