Receiving Stolen Property

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Receiving Stolen Property

The offense of acquiring goods with the knowledge that they have been stolen, extorted, embezzled, or unlawfully taken in any manner.

The earliest statute that made receiving stolen property a crime was enacted in England in 1692. It provided that the receiver—the person who accepts the property—should be deemed an Accessory after the fact to the theft. The crime became a separate substantive offense in 1827, and it has been similarly treated in a majority of U.S. jurisdictions.


Receiving stolen property is defined by statute in most states. Generally it consists of four elements: (1) the property must be received; (2) it must have been previously stolen; (3) the person receiving the property must know it was stolen; and (4) the receiver must intend to deprive the owner of his or her property.

A person receives stolen property by acquiring or taking manual possession of it. Physical possession, however, is not always required. Under some statutes, it is sufficient if the accused has exercised control over the property. For example, a statute may declare that paying for the property constitutes control, regardless of whether the accused has handled it.

In many jurisdictions a belief that the property is stolen satisfies the knowledge element. It has been held that a mere suspicion does not constitute knowledge. Some statutes provide that a person has knowledge if he knows, or has reason to know, that goods are stolen. Another test is whether a reasonable person would suspect that the property was stolen. Knowledge is commonly proved by the circumstances surrounding the receipt of the property. For example, unexplained possession of goods that were recently stolen raises a presumption that the possessor received them illegally.

In order to be guilty, the receiver must intend to deprive the owner of the property. The crime is committed even if the receiver intends to obtain a reward for returning the property because she has gained a benefit from depriving the owner of possession, even temporarily.


An honest, although mistaken, belief that property is not stolen is a defense to the crime of receiving stolen property. Intoxication is another defense, but the intoxication must be severe enough to prevent any knowledge that the property was stolen. Infancy and insanity are also good defenses.


The punishment for receiving stolen property is a fine or imprisonment. The term of years imposed varies from state to state. In jurisdictions where value is an element of the offense, the severity of the penalty is commensurate with the value of the goods. Where value is not an element, it might still be significant in determining the severity of the punishment.

Civil Remedies

In a majority of states, the person whose property was stolen may bring a conversion action against the receiver of stolen property. If the accused is found to have converted the property, the victim has a choice of remedies. The victim may demand that the accused return the stolen property or may require the accused to pay the full value of the property at the time it was converted.

Federal Law

Receiving stolen property is proscribed by federal statute (18 U.S.C.A. § 662) when it occurs within the maritime or territorial jurisdiction of the United States or when such property has moved in interstate commerce.

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