In the state of Pennsylvania, it is not only illegal to steal and sell stolen property, it is also against the law to receive stolen property. Receiving stolen property is one of the most commonly enforced crimes in the state.
If you have been accused of receiving stolen property, you first step should be to consult with an attorney. An attorney can work towards minimizing your chances of creating a criminal record, or reducing your sentence. Your next step would be to find out what you're up against. Knowing the state's laws and penalties for receiving stolen property will be able to help you assess the gravity and potential collateral and legal ramifications that accompany a conviction of this crime.
Receiving Stolen Property in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania statutes provide that the criminal act of receiving stolen property is constituted when an individual has intentionally obtained, kept possession of, or disposed of someone else's stolen movable property. Movable property is referred to as property that can physically be relocated or taken. Jewelry and gaming systems, for example, would be considered movable property. The conviction of this crime is dependent on if the defendant knew the property was stolen, or had reason to believe it was stolen.
Element of awareness
Having valid reasons to believe a movable item was stolen and failing to act on this inclination and return this property, or alert the authorities is criminalized in Pennsylvania. For example, let's say, you've been longing for a new laptop for a few months now, and are in contact with a friend who claims to have a great deal on the exact laptop you're interested in. After being informed of the unbelievably low price that your friend is selling it for, you start to suspect that it may have been stolen. Without questioning the laptops origins, and without a hint from your trusted friend alluding to any shady methods of obtaining it, you decide to purchase it. You can't possibly be arrested for this crime, right? Wrong.
Even if a person wasn't completely privy to the fact that the item was stolen, according to state law, certain factors of the purchase should have indicated that it had been. The most obvious sign being the ridiculously low price. In the eyes of the law, unconcern for these questionable factors proves that you were planning on purchasing the item regardless of whether it was stolen or not.
There is one exception that can be possibly be applied to a defendant's case. If you obtained, or kept possession of the property with intentions of returning it to its rightful owner, you cannot be convicted under state law. However, one has the burden of proving that this was, in fact, their intention. This is where the expertise and skill of an experienced attorney can help you in court.
Elevation of “Receiving Stolen Property” Charges and Penalties
Similar to most theft crimes, a receiving stolen property charge is graded based on the property value of what was taken and is now possessed by someone who is not the owner. If the stolen property is valued at:
- Less than $50, the crime will be charged as a third degree misdemeanor. Upon conviction, a person will face a maximum penalty of not more than one year in prison and a fine of up to $2,500
- $50 or more, but less than $200, the crime will be charged as a second degree misdemeanor. This is punishable by up to two years in prison and a fine up to $5,000.
- $200 or more, but less than $2,000, the crime will be charged as a first degree misdemeanor. If convicted, a person will face up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
- $2,000 or more, the criminal will be charged as a third degree felony. This is punishable by a maximum penalty of seven years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000.
There exists multiple defenses that could potentially be applicable to your case. If a criminal defense attorney can highlight that the prosecution lacks sufficient and compelling evidence in proving any of the following crucial elements of this offense, your case may be dismissed.
A lack of sufficient proof that the property was stolen
Although there are significant indicators that an item was stolen, like a missing barcode, the item was unsecured or damaged, or it was sold for well below retail value - these facts do not necessarily prove that you were aware it was stolen. For example, if you posed questions regarding how the property was obtained, and the seller provided an explanation that was plausible and believable, the courts may determine that the prosecution did not fulfill its burden of proving this element. In circumstances when a defendant has been mislead pertaining to the origins of a stolen item, this defense can be applied.
A lack of sufficient proof that you were in possession of the stolen property
The prosecution must establish that you knew you were in possession of the property. This defense is applicable in cases when the property is found in a place that belongs to more than one person, or in where a defendant happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
You had pure intentions
If you had intentions of returning the property to its rightful owner, or had planned to call the authorities, this defense could be applicable in your case. It's important to note that if you intended to keep the property, but later changed your mind, this defense will not work. A defense attorney will have to establish that there always was a plan to “do the right thing” in your case.
Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Attorney
With over 15 years of trial experience, Joseph D. Lento has successfully represented clients who've acquired both misdemeanor and felony theft offenses. He can do the same for you. If you have been charged with this crime, contact him today at 215-535-5353 for a consultation.