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Recent Unexplained Possession of Stolen Property: The Ramifications of Certain Statements & Testimony in a New York Criminal Possession of Stolen Property Case

Although each case is unique and requires its own assessment, it is rarely, if ever, beneficial to speak to the police without a lawyer. You may think you are smarter or have the right answers to their questions, but you could be damning yourself and giving prosecutors the tools to make a conviction stick. Should you testify in your own defense in the Grand Jury or at trial, failure to consult with a criminal defense attorney can be equally dangerous. Cases in New York involving Criminal Possession of Stolen Property, Article 165 of the New York Penal Law, are certainly not immune from this pitfall. Whether you are charged with misdemeanor Fifth Degree Criminal Possession of Stolen Property (New York Penal Law 165.40) or the felony varieties of Fourth, Third, Second or First Degree Criminal Possession of Stolen Property (New York Penal Law 165.45, 165.50, 165.52 and 165.54 respectively), your statement or admission prior to consulting with a New York theft and stolen property attorney will likely leave you facing a more daunting defensive task. Implausible testimony at trial may compromise your liberty and legal predicament further. While any statement can be damning, this New York theft and larceny blog entry will address a principle in the New York criminal law called “unexplained or falsely explained possession of recently stolen property.”

In People v Mangual, 13 A.D.3d 734 (3rd Dept. 2004), the defendant was convicted after trial of Second Degree Burglary (New York Penal Law 140.25), Fourth Degree Grand Larceny (New York Penal Law 155.30) and Fifth Degree Criminal Possession of Stolen Property (New York Penal Law 165.40). The thefts all occurred when the defendant stole items from an apartment. At trial, a prosecution witness testified that he saw two bags with soccer logos left unattended on the street. Looking closer, a name appeared on the bag of a woman who lived in the neighborhood. The defendant drove up a short time later, picked up the bag and drove off. Before leaving, the defendant stated in substance that he was there for the bags. The witness jotted down the license plate number and spoke to the complainant who confirmed nobody had authority to take her property. Both the witness and the complainant then went to the complainant’s home and learned of the burglary.

Once the police were notified, they tracked down the defendant. At the time of his questioning, the defendant first denied any involvement in the burglary. A search warrant, however, revealed the bags inside the van with stolen property. The defendant then admitted (without a lawyer present, of course) removing bags from the street.

At trial, the defendant testified consistently with his statement to law enforcement. In a relatively ridiculous story (I have heard far stranger), the defendant went on to testify that he met a stranger who needed money to travel. The stranger informed the defendant that his bags were on a particular corner and the defendant agreed to go get them. Upon doing so, the defendant then purchased some of the stranger’s personal property to give the stranger money to travel.

In upholding the defendant’s conviction, the Appellate Division Third Department stated that “[w]hile some charges are based upon circumstantial evidence, ‘unexplained or falsely explained possession of recently stolen property is sufficient to establish a prima facie case and to enable a jury to find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.” citing People v Baskerville, 60 NY2d 374, 382 (1983) and referencing People v Jackson, 2 AD3d 893, 896 (2003), lv denied 1 NY3d 629 (2004).

The court further noted:

“While defendant provided an explanation for his recent possession of stolen property, the jury was free to reject his testimony–a determination to which we will defer where, as here, it is properly grounded.”

Simply put, courts are hesitant to overturn a jury’s verdict in situations as that addressed here. Should you make a statement to the police or testify at trial, be careful as to what you say and how you say it. Your recent and unexplained (or “odd” explanation) can ultimately be the last nail in your criminal coffin.

To educate yourself on New York larceny crimes and those involving stolen property, click through the links provided or review the websites and blogs below to find analysis of Grand Larceny and Criminal Possession of Stolen Property degrees and criminal statutes, legal decisions and noteworthy cases in the New York City area news.

Established by two former Manhattan prosecutors, the New York criminal defense attorneys at Crotty Saland PC represent clients in theft and larceny crimes throughout the New York City region.

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