Being charged with criminal possession of stolen property can happen to anyone. Legitimate business owners who did not know the property was stolen at the time they received it, can easily be charged with possessing stolen property. But that does not necessarily mean you should be convicted.
Below, we will explain the laws behind federal theft crimes, the agencies involved in the investigation and enforcement of these statutes, the penalties for violating federal theft crimes, and the defenses available to anyone charged with criminal possession of stolen property.
If you have been arrested or accused of a federal theft crime, the Blanch law firm is here to help. Our lawyers have years of experience in federal criminal possession cases.
If you would like to speak with an experienced federal theft crimes attorney, call the Blanch Law Firm now at (212) 736-3900 for a free legal review of your case.
Motor Vehicle and Aircraft Theft – 18 U.S.C. §§ 2311 – 2313
The National Motor Vehicle Theft Act (“NMVT”) was passed in 1986 and it makes it unlawful to transport a motor vehicle, aircraft, or another vessel over state lines if you know it was stolen. Even the receipt, possession, sale, concealment, or disposal of a stolen vehicle–with knowledge of the fact that it was stolen–is punishable by 18 U.S.C. §§ 2312-2313.
“Possession” of stolen goods was added to the NMVT to allow prosecutors to charge people with federal theft crimes, even if they cannot prove when, where, and how the vehicle was taken. If you have been charged with the unlawful “possession” of a motor vehicle, you need an attorney who will fight to make the prosecutor prove your guilt, beyond a reasonable doubt.
Motor Vehicle Theft – 18 U.S.C. §§ 2312
The term “motor vehicle” includes “any self-propelled vehicle designed for running on land.” This includes cars, buses, trucks, motorcycles, dirt bikes, and scooters. As long as it was not designed for use on the water, in the air, or on a track or rail system–like a train–it is a “motor vehicle.”
Aircraft Theft – 18 U.S.C. §§ 2312
Not surprisingly, federal prosecutors will most likely take over your case if it involves the theft of an aircraft. Federal prosecutors take the theft of an aircraft very seriously since interstate transportation of a stolen aircraft usually involves an expensive vehicle that can be used to commit other serious federal crimes.
Transportation of Stolen Vehicles -18 U.S.C. §2312
In order to be convicted of felony transportation of a stolen vehicle, you must transport a car, boat, or aircraft in “interstate or foreign commerce.”
The “interstate commerce” element requires the prosecution to show that the vehicle moved across state lines at some point. Prosecutors must prove this element in order to have jurisdiction over you and your case.
If the prosecutor cannot prove that the car crossed state lines at some after it was stolen, there may be no federal cause of action against you under 18 U.S.C. §2312.
Sale or Receipt of Stolen Vehicles – 18 U.S.C. §2313
According to 18 U.S.C. §2313, it is a federal crime to:
- Sell; or
- Of a car;
- Boat; or
- that has crossed state lines.
The difference between receiving and possessing stolen property is the timing at which you realized the property was stolen. If you would like to learn more about the differences between receiving and possessing stolen property, and how this may aid in your defense, please see the “Defense Strategies in Federal Possession Cases” section below or call Blanch Law Firm now at (212) 736-3900 for a free consultation.
Sale, Possession and Transportation of Stolen Goods – §§ 2314 – 2315
18 U.S.C. § 2314 makes it unlawful to transport stolen goods over state lines if you know it was stolen. On the other hand, the receipt, possession, sale, concealment, or disposal of a stolen goods–with knowledge of the fact that it was stolen–is punishable by 18 U.S.C. § 2315.
Transportation of Stolen Goods – 18 U.S.C. §2314
Charges related to the transportation of stolen goods require four basic elements:
- Requires an Act
- Transmit; or
- Requires that the goods must travel through “interstate commerce.”
- In interstate commerce
- Or foreign commerce
- Any item or group of items allegedly stolen must cost more the $5,000.
- Any goods
- Securities; or
- Of the value of $5,000 or more
- You must have knowledge that the goods were stolen at the time you received them.
- Knowing it to have been stolen
- or taken by fraud
Sale or Receipt of Stolen Goods – 18 U.S.C. §2315
18 U.S.C. §2315 makes it unlawful to knowingly receive, possess, conceal, sell, or dispose of stolen property which has a value of $5,000 or more and which is a part of interstate commerce.
Prosecution of Federal Theft Crimes
Investigation and Enforcement
There are many federal agencies involved in the prosecution of federal theft crimes. According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office:
- The Criminal Division’s Office of Enforcement Operations (“OEO”) has supervisory authority over all crimes involving property.
- The Federal Bureau of Investigations (“FBI”) has investigative jurisdiction for most stolen property offenses.
- For property crimes that involve bank robbery, the Organized Crime and Gang Section of the Criminal Division has supervisory authority, while the FBI retains investigative jurisdiction.
Other federal agencies involved in the investigation and enforcement of federal theft crimes include:
- The Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”)
- The Department of Defense (“DOD”)
Thefts from interstate shipment should be prosecuted by federal law.
According to 18 U.S.C. §659, charges of theft from interstate shipment that do not originally qualify for federal jurisdiction may be prosecuted under federal law when:
- There is difficulty in establishing venue for state prosecution;
- The thefts are systematic or widespread;
- The defendant is charged with another related federal offense;
- Federal prosecution is advantageous to the administration of justice.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, major theft cases and cases involving repeat offenders should be given priority under 18 U.S.C. §659.
Federal prosecutors are encouraged to investigate and prosecute cases that involve organized crime, or the moving of stolen property across state lines.
In “exceptional circumstances,” if local authorities think that they will be unable to successfully prosecute you, federal prosecutors can take over the case.
Some situations which may be considered “exceptional circumstances are:”
- The stolen vehicle is used to commit a separate felony.
- The stolen vehicle is destroyed or sent to a foreign country.
- The person who stole the vehicle has stolen more than one vehicle.
- The stolen vehicle is a heavy commercial vehicle like farming or construction equipment or even a bus.
Also, if the case requires:
- the need for things like federal investigative facilities; or
- prosecuting the defendant by the means available to the state would render the punishment on the defendant “inadequate,” federal prosecution is recommended.
There is No Federal Jurisdiction for Joyriding or Juveniles
Joyriding and Juvenile Defendants
Federal charges should not be filed in cases involving “joyriding,” or a juvenile defendants. A juvenile is considered to be anyone under the age of 18 years old.
If the individual is between the ages of 18 and 21 years old, federal charges should only be filed if that person can be defined as a “recidivist.”
Exception to Federal Jurisdiction Ban on Juveniles: “Recidivism”
A “recidivist” for the purposes of this policy is anyone who has been arrested for motor vehicle theft more than twice. But that’s not all…
In order to be considered a “recidivist,” you must have been convicted for at least one of the two prior arrests for motor vehicle theft. Therefore, if you were arrested twice, but never convicted, you are not considered a “recidivist.”
Determining the “Value” of Stolen Goods – 18 U.S.C. §§ 2314 – 2315
Federal Jurisdiction Requires the “Value” of the Stolen Goods Be $5,000
Generally, there is a $5,000 threshold which is required for federal prosecution of your case. If the property which was allegedly stolen did not have a “value” of at least $5,000, the case should not be prosecuted federally.
“How do you determine the ‘value’ of stolen property?”
“Value” includes the aggregate or total amount of all stolen property listed in a single indictment. Each individual item in an indictment has a:
- face value;
- par value; and
- market value.
According to 18 U.S.C. §§ 2311, whichever one of these three values is greater will establish and determine the “value” of the stolen property in any given case.
The $5,000 Threshold Does Not Apply to Cases Involving Fraud and Forgery
The $5,000 threshold required to permit federal jurisdiction does not apply to cases involving “falsely made, forged, altered, or counterfeit” money.
Cases involving “falsely made, forged, altered, or counterfeit” money do not require a specific monetary amount to invoke federal jurisdiction.
Federal Crimes Related to Criminal Possession of Stolen Property
Redistribution of Stolen Property: “Fencing”
Priority is given to all prosecutions of “fencing.” “Fences” are described as people who have assisted in finding or dealing with more than one buyer for stolen goods.
If you are the owner of a legitimate business and are concerned about possibly selling stolen property to the public, you may be considered a “fence,” and the federal government may see bringing charges against you as a priority.
Intent to Devise a Fraudulent Scheme to Obtain Money or Property
18 U.S.C. §2314 also covers any intent to devise a fraudulent scheme to obtain money or property by means of:
- false pretenses;
- fraudulent representations; or
If the government cannot prove intent to defraud “beyond a reasonable doubt,” their case will most likely fail.
Property the Defendant “Should Have Known” was Stolen
Prosecutors are not limited to proving that you actually knew the property in question was stolen. Federal criminal possession of stolen property can also be charged when a defendant “should have known” that the property was stolen.
In these cases, a prosecutor must prove that a “reasonable person” would have suspected that the items were stolen.
Basically, a “reasonable person standard” stated that if a reasonable person would have been suspicious of whether or not a good was stolen, then the defendant should have been suspicious also.
Therefore, turning a blind eye to the fact that a good may be stolen will not prevent you from facing federal prosecution. As long as a “reasonable person” would have conclude that the goods were stolen, the defendant may be guilty of receiving stolen property.
But wait, there’s more…
The “reasonable person standard” could work in your favor and help you establish a defense.
For more information on how the “reasonable person standard” may help you establish a viable defense to the possession of stolen property, please see the “Defense Strategies in Federal Criminal Possession Cases” section below.
Altering or Removing Vehicle Identification Numbers – Dryer Act
If you alter or remove motor vehicle identification numbers, operate a chop shop, or export and import stolen vehicles, the Dryer Act, 18 U.S.C. §§ 2311 – 2313, applies to you.
Violation of the Dryer Act can result in federal criminal prosecution. If you or someone you care about works in a chop shop or deals with the importing and exporting of foreign vehicles, our attorneys are experienced and available to discuss the liability associated with motor vehicle theft offenses.
- Penalty for motor vehicle or aircraft theft: Fine, up to 10 years imprisonment, or both. You may also have to pay restitution to the legal owners of the stolen goods to compensate them for their loss.
- Penalty for sale or receipt of stolen goods: Fine, up to 10 years imprisonment, or both. You may also have to pay restitution to the legal owners of the stolen goods to compensate them for their loss.
Defense Strategies in Federal Possession Cases
You did not know the property was stolen when you received it.
If you did not know the property was stolen at the time you received it, there is no cause of action against you for receiving stolen property. However, you may still be liable for possession of stolen property, depending on the circumstances.
The difference between receiving and possessing stolen property is the exact moment you realized the property was stolen.
If you knew the property was stolen at the time you accepted it, you may be guilty of receiving stolen property. If you realized the property was stolen after you accepted it, but still intended to keep it, you may be guilty of possessing stolen property.
Be aware, if you had exclusive possession of the stolen property, and you do not have an explanation as to why you are in possession of that stolen property, the court may presume that you knew property was stolen.
A “reasonable person” would not have suspected the items were stolen
If there is no direct evidence that you knew the property you were dealing with was stolen, prosecutors will try to prove that you “should have known” the property was stolen because any “reasonable person” would have been able to come to that determination.
Prosecutors use this type of fantasy to prove your criminal intent when there is no direct evidence showing you knowingly were in possession of stolen property.
If you did not know that the property in your possession was stolen, your lawyer should be able to prove your innocence by show the court no “reasonable person” in your position would have been able to tell that the property was stolen.
The owner consented to you taking the item.
While this may seem simple enough, it is important to remember that the owner must voluntarily give consent, and you must not have the intent to keep the items.
If someone consents to you taking their property to use and return, but you plan on keeping it all along, you would be depriving them of their ownership of the property by not returning it to them. This may subject you to liability for a property crime.
Similarly, if you obtain the items by tricking someone into giving them to you, they have not voluntarily consented to your possession.
The property did not move in “interstate commerce.”
In order to be convicted of felony transportation of a stolen vehicle, you must transport a car, boat, or aircraft in “interstate or foreign commerce.”
For example, if a vehicle is stolen in Pennsylvania and is recovered in New York, the interstate commerce element of the crime is satisfied. Federal prosecutors must prove this element in order to have jurisdiction over you and your case.
On the other hand, if a vehicle is stolen in New York and recovered in New York, federal prosecutors with need to prove that the vehicle crossed a state line at some point after it was stolen
A prosecutor could prove that the vehicle crossed a state line at some point by pointing to ez-pass records, bridge and tunnel cameras, and even parking tickets written in another state on any day after the vehicle was allegedly stolen.
If they cannot prove that the car crossed state lines at some point, there may be no federal cause of action against you under 18 U.S.C. §2312. However, there are “exceptional circumstances” which allow for federal prosecution if state prosecution would be insufficient. If no exceptional circumstance exists, and the property did not travel in interstate commerce, state theft crimes could still apply.
You did not receive or possess the property for an “unlawful purpose.”
Basically, this defense relies on the fact that you did not intend to keep the property. In order to be convicted of federal criminal possession of stolen property and related theft crimes, prosecutors must prove that you received or possessed of the property with the “intent of an unlawful purpose.”
Therefore, if you intended to return the property to the owner, you would not be liable for possessing the item for an unlawful purpose.
If, on the other hand, you intended on giving the property to someone else other than the original owner, or you intended on demanding a reward to return it to the owner, you may be found liable of criminal possession of stolen property.
Bottom line, if the prosecution can prove that you intended to deprive the original owner of his ability to possess the item, you may be found liable for possessing stolen property for an unlawful purpose.
The value of the items did not exceed $5,000.
If the value of the items you are accused of being in possession of does not exceed $5,000, you may not be liable under the federal theft statutes. You may, however, be found liable under state or local statutes.
To have an experienced federal theft attorney review your case, call the Blanch Law Firm now at (212) 736-3900 for a free legal review of your case.
Not Every Attorney is a Federal Criminal Defense Attorney.
Our federal attorneys have proven federal defense strategies, which have helped our clients avoid criminal charges, maintain their professional licenses, and avoid fines and jail time.
If you are facing charges related to the possession, receipt, transfer, sale, or disposal of stolen property and would like to work with an experienced attorney who has successfully handled federal theft and fraud cases, call the Blanch Law Firm now at (212) 736-3900 for a free legal review of your case.