All states, including Pennsylvania, have laws against buying, receiving, or possessing stolen property, and in some cases, the federal government can investigate alleged offenses and prosecute those involved. If convicted of federal stolen property crimes, you could receive harsh sentences that will adversely affect your future, and even just being investigated or arrested for a federal crime will impact your reputation, your career, and other areas of your life.
Considering all that's at stake, you need to understand federal laws regarding stolen property and the potential penalties you could face, so you know what to expect. You also need to consult an experienced federal criminal defense attorney immediately for advice regarding your rights and options and help in preparing your defense.
Federal Law Regarding Stolen Property
It is against federal law to receive, sell, possess, conceal, or dispose of any property you know was stolen. Federal statutes contain several definitions of stolen property that include:
- Cattle and livestock
- Motor vehicles
- Tax stamps
- Watercraft and other vessels
- Anything of “value”
Federal statutes also define several offenses related to stolen property, and they include:
- Transporting stolen vehicles, which include motor vehicles, aircraft, and water vessels
- Selling or receiving stolen vehicles
- Transporting stolen goods, securities, moneys, fraudulent State tax stamps, and articles used in counterfeiting
- Selling or receiving stolen goods, moneys, securities, or fraudulent State tax stamps
- Transporting stolen livestock
- Selling or receiving stolen livestock
- Trafficking in counterfeit labels, documentation, or packaging
- Trafficking in counterfeit goods or services
- Trafficking in certain motor vehicles or parts
- Running or maintaining chop shops
Additionally, stolen property crimes involve copyright infringement and the unauthorized sale, production, recording, or trafficking of sound recordings, music performances, and motion pictures. It is also against the law to engage in illicit digital transmission services.
The federal government can prosecute crimes that fall under its jurisdiction, and for stolen property crimes, you can face federal prosecution if any of the following applies:
- The value of the stolen property exceeds $5,000
- The crime occurred across state lines or international boundaries
- The crime affected interstate or foreign commerce
Virtually any crime that uses the Internet or any form of wired or wireless electronic communication can fall under federal jurisdiction, and the feds usually get involved with any bank robbery. You can also face federal prosecution if you steal property belonging to the federal government, even if the property was property the government took from you through a lawful seizure.
Moreover, the federal government can get involved in stolen property crimes if certain “exceptional circumstances” exist, some of which include:
- The crime was widespread or systematic.
- The crime involved multiple vehicles.
- The crime involved heavy commercial vehicles and equipment.
- The defendant allegedly committed multiple interrelated crimes.
- The defendant was a repeat offender.
- A specific state (or states) had difficulty establishing a venue for prosecution.
It is also against the law to alter or remove any vehicle identification numbers (VINs) from vehicles or any identifying information of any stolen property.
Federal Agencies That Investigate and Prosecute Stolen Property Crimes
Depending on the stolen property involved, one or several federal agencies may investigate the crime, including:
- The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
- The Office of Enforcement Operations (OEO)
- The Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
- The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF)
- The Criminal Division's Organized Crime and Gang Sections
- The Department of Defense (DOD)
Other federal agencies can get involved as well, and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecutes alleged offenses. The DOJ works closely with federal agencies, as well as state and local agencies, to gather evidence and build their cases, and all federal authorities are typically aggressive in their prosecution efforts. This is why it is vital you retain an experienced federal defense attorney as soon as possible to safeguard your rights and interests and help you defend yourself against the charges.
Federal Stolen Property Penalties
Penalties for stolen property crimes vary depending on the property involved and the nature and severity of the crime. However, most crimes carry up to 10 years in federal prison, along with substantial fines. Crimes involving stolen livestock carry prison sentences of up to five years and fines, and you can receive up to 15 years for stealing pre-retail medical equipment and transporting it across state lines.
In addition to harsh prison sentences and fines, you may also have to pay restitution or “statutory damages” to the victims for any financial losses they incurred because of the crime. Examples include paying back the value of vehicles you stole or providing recompense for the loss of income from pirated movies, music, or other intellectual property. The court can increase damages for subsequent violations, but plaintiffs must bring civil actions against offenders within three years of the date of the crime.
Federal Stolen Property Crime Defenses
To convict you of stolen property crimes, prosecutors must show, beyond a reasonable doubt, that you knew the property was stolen. However, you can also face prosecution if you should have known the property was stolen--or could have reasonably suspected the property was stolen--and you turned a blind eye.
As such, one effective defense your attorney can use is to show that you had no idea the property was stolen and had no reason to suspect it was. Someone could have misrepresented where the property came from or simply lied to you when you asked. Other defense options you may be able to use include:
- The value of the property did not exceed $5,000.
- You did not transport the property across state lines or international boundaries.
- The property owner gave you consent to take or transport the property.
You may have also been carrying the property for someone else and had no idea it was stolen. If someone forced you to commit the crime through threats or violence, you shouldn't have to face prosecution.
Get Help from an Experienced Federal Defense Attorney
Your defense options will lie in the facts and circumstances of your case, and you will need a careful and objective review from an experienced federal defense attorney.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento's Criminal Defense Team has extensive knowledge of federal stolen property laws, and has successfully defended many clients in Pennsylvania District Courts. He can review your case, advise you of your options, and fight hard for your future.