Receiving stolen property is a crime related to theft, but it doesn’t require the government to prove you actually stole the property.  Any time the police catch you in possession of property that was stolen – and they can prove you knew or should have known it was stolen – you can be arrested and charged with similar penalties as if you had stolen it.  What if someone gives you stolen property or you pick something up and didn’t know it was stolen?  What should you do?  The Atlantic City theft defense lawyers at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych discuss receiving stolen property charges and what to do to avoid criminal charges if you receive stolen property.  For help with your charges, call our law offices today to schedule a free legal consultation.

When Do Receiving Stolen Property Charges Apply in NJ?

Under N.J.S.A. § 2C:20-7, receiving stolen property (RSP) is the crime of receiving property “knowing that it has been stolen, or believing that it is probably stolen.”  If you stole the items yourself, you would obviously know they were stolen – but if someone else gave it to you or you found the property, it may be difficult to know it was stolen.  Under some circumstances, the law assumes you knew the items were stolen and you can be charged anyway.

First, the belief that the property was probably stolen also qualifies for RSP charges.  If you have a friend that you know deals in stolen goods or has a problem with shoplifting, you can probably suspect that something they gave you is stolen.  If you keep it, you could be committing RSP.

Similarly, the law also presumes you know something is stolen if you have had other encounters with the law for receiving stolen property or you are in the business of trading stolen goods.  Alternatively, if you have defaced or modified credit cards with you or a truck or shipping container without proper ownership documentation, the law also presumes you know that the goods you have were stolen.

If you find something and keep it, you can also be charged with RSP or another theft offense.  If you find something that clearly belongs to someone else, such as a wallet with someone else’s name on it, you can be charged with theft for keeping it.  Under § 2C:20-6, it is a crime to keep found property that you think was probably lost or delivered by mistake.  This means that the classic “it fell off a truck” or “I didn’t steal it – I found it” excuses would not help you avoid charges if you are caught with lost or stolen property.

Is it a Crime to Receive Stolen Property Unknowingly?

Under the definition of the receiving stolen property crime in New Jersey, the government must prove you knew the goods were stolen or probably stolen.  If you are completely blindsided by the fact that the items were stolen, you should not be charged – but it may be difficult for police and prosecutors to believe you.  In some cases, you may need to take your case to trial to prove your innocence to a jury, but an attorney may be able to negotiate your case and get charges dropped if the police and prosecutors believe you truly had no idea the property was stolen.

How Can I Get Rid of Stolen Property Legally?

If you do come into contact with stolen property or find out that something someone left at your house or gave you as a gift was stolen, what can you do with it?  Keeping it would constitute a receiving stolen property offense, but going to the police may seem like an admission of guilt.  What should you do?

First, if you are ever in doubt about what to do, talk to a lawyer.  This article is not intended to be legal advice, and you should always get help from a lawyer that understands the specifics of your case.  If you want to call our law offices and schedule a free legal consultation, we may be able to help you with your problem.

If you are going to take matters into your own hands, your best move is probably to turn the property in to the police.  People come across stolen goods all the time in some fields of work, e.g., secondhand stores, used electronics stores, or pawn shops.  These people will typically call the police, turn in the stolen merchandise, and move along with their day without charges.  You may similarly go to the police and turn in the stolen items.  This may lead to questions about where you got them, but it should not lead to charges if you are turning the items over to the police.  Your attorney can accompany you and help you turn in the items in a way that will help avoid charges.

What you should never do is keep the items or dispose of them.  Keeping the items you know are stolen will constitute RSP and could lead to charges if police find out.  Similarly, destroying or disposing of the items just hides evidence of your potential RSP offense, which can constitute additional charges for obstruction of justice or evidence tampering.

Call Our Atlantic City Receiving Stolen Property Lawyers for a Free Legal Consultation

If you find out that property you own is stolen or someone leaves stolen property in your possession, talk to a lawyer about turning the property over to the police.  If you are charged with RSP or another theft offense in New Jersey, call our Atlantic City criminal defense lawyers at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych today to schedule a free consultation on your charges.  Our phone number is (609) 616-4956.