Receiving stolen property in Pennsylvania is a special type of theft charge. This charge alleges that you knew or should have known the property you received was stolen. Since the prosecution has to prove your knowledge or intent beyond a reasonable doubt, there are several possible defenses to a receiving stolen property charge.

What Is the Definition of Receiving Stolen Property?

Receiving stolen property is one of several theft offenses under Pennsylvania law. It is defined by Title 18, Section 3925.

Receiving stolen property means that you receive, retain, or dispose of the property of another while knowing that it was stolen or believing that it was probably stolen. Receiving means acquiring physical possession or control, obtaining the title, or lending on the security of the property. It is not an offense if you were trying to return the property to its rightful owner.

A common type of offense where someone may believe property was probably stolen is retail theft. For example, someone might offer to sell you a brand new TV that’s still in the box at half price. The prosecution will argue that you should know that TV is probably stolen because the deal is too good to be true.

How Serious Is a Receiving Stolen Property Charge?

A receiving stolen property charge has the same seriousness as a theft by unlawful taking. When you receive stolen property, you are charged with theft according to the value of the property.

  • It is a first-degree felony if the stolen property is worth $500,000 or more.
  • It is a second-degree felony if the stolen property is worth $100,000 or more but less than $500,000.
  • It is a third-degree felony if the stolen property is worth more than $2,000.
  • Most other amounts are a first-degree misdemeanor.
  • If there was no threat or breach of fiduciary obligation and the amount was between $50 and $200, it is a second-degree misdemeanor.
  • If there was no threat or breach of fiduciary obligation and the amount was less than $50, it is a third-degree misdemeanor.

There are also special circumstances that can increase the charge regardless of the value of the property.

  • If someone who receives a stolen firearm is in the business of buying or selling stolen property, the charge is upgraded to a first-degree felony.
  • If the stolen property is a firearm or anhydrous ammonia, the charge is upgraded to a second-degree felony.
  • If the property was stolen during a natural disaster, the minimum charge is a second-degree felony.

Can You Be Charged With Possession of a Stolen Motor Vehicle?

A motor vehicle is a type of property. If you received or retained a stolen motor vehicle, you can be charged.

This is a very fact-specific charge. If your friend lets you borrow what they say is their car, and it’s similar to what they’ve always driven, the prosecution likely can’t prove you had the required knowledge. However, if the car is a sports car you know your friend doesn’t have money for, or if there are obvious signs it was broken into, the prosecution will say you should have known it was stolen.

What Are the Defenses to Receiving Stolen Property?

The most important defense to a receiving stolen property charge is that you didn’t know the property was stolen. The prosecution must prove your knowledge beyond a reasonable doubt. However, keep in mind the concept that you should have known the property was probably stolen. It’s not enough to just not ask questions about where the property came from. Examples of possible defenses include that someone gave you a reasonable explanation for how they got the property or that someone else in your house brought home goods you had no way of knowing were stolen.

Another common defense to any theft offense is that the police found the stolen property through an unreasonable search and seizure. For example, you get pulled over, and the police find a stolen firearm in a search they didn’t have probable cause or consent for. When something is found in an illegal search or seizure, it generally can’t be used as evidence. If the police can’t use the stolen firearm as evidence, they don’t have a way of charging you with possession of a stolen firearm.

Does It Matter if the Person Who Originally Stole the Property Is Found Guilty?

The prosecution generally only needs to prove that the property you received was stolen. This does not mean that they have to have proved the guilt of the person who stole it. For example, you may have received stolen items from someone who committed a burglary. The report that the items were stolen may be enough even if the police can’t find out who the burglar was.

There may be instances where it can help your case to know the person who allegedly committed the original theft wasn’t convicted. For example, a store might file shoplifting charges, but the evidence at trial might show that the person made an honest effort to pay and didn’t realize the allegedly stolen item wasn’t scanned at the register. If you received that item, the fact that it wasn’t stolen means you haven’t committed a crime.

Contact an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney

If you’ve been charged with receiving stolen property or similar crimes, contact a lawyer as soon as possible. We will gather information about your case and help you choose the right way to approach your defense. Call now to schedule a consultation.