In New York, Criminal Possession of Stolen Property fits into five separate categories or degrees when value is considered. These are Fifth Degree Criminal Possession of Stolen Property (New York Penal Law 165.40), Fourth Degree Criminal Possession of Stolen Property (New York Penal Law 165.45), Third Degree Criminal Possession of Stolen Property (New York Penal Law 165.50), Second Degree Criminal Possession of Stolen Property (New York Penal Law 165.52) and First Degree Criminal Possession of Stolen Property (New York Penal Law 165.54). The threshold for determining the value or dollar amount for these crimes are $1,000 or less, greater than $1,000, greater than $3,000, greater than $50,000 and in excess of $1 million respectively. Further, other than Fifth Degree Criminal Possession of Stolen Property, each of these crimes are felony offenses. Putting aside valuation (another issues not addressed here is the means by which courts determine or assess value), the basic language of a Criminal Possession of Stolen Property arrest, misdemeanor complaint or felony indictment, is that the accused knowingly possessed stolen property. Further you must also have the intent to benefit yourself or impede the owner from recovering his or her property whether it is money from a bank account, an antique watch or an iPad.
The question posed here is whether you can be arrested, charged with and ultimately found guilty by a judge or jury for any degree of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property even if you did not actually steal the property, were not present when the property was stolen, had no involvement in the actually taking and were not arrested for and charged with Petit Larceny (New York Penal Law 155.25) or any degree of Grand Larceny? The simple and short answer is “yes.”
In People v. Estrict, 2016 NY Slip Op 50050(U) (Suffolk County District Ct. January 13, 2016), the defendant was accused of and charged with Fifth Degree Criminal Possession of Stolen Property, PL 165.40. This “A” misdemeanor is punishable by as much as one year in jail. It was alleged in the accusatory instrument that the defendant pawned jewelry belonging to another party on the same day that property was stolen during which time movers (not the defendant) had access to the complainant’s property. The main thrust of the defendant’s argument was that since three other people had access, he did not steal the property and merely sold it after the fact, the accusatory instrument was not sufficient to establish his knowledge that in fact the jewelry he pawned was stolen.
Despite the defendant’s contention, the law allows both direct and circumstantial evidence to establish intent and knowledge. In this particular case, the defendant stated that he “had a bad feeling about the jewelry — that it might be stolen — but pawned it anyway.” Because of this statement reflecting some knowledge or concern coupled with the fact that “[s]o long as the factual allegations of an information give an accused notice sufficient to prepare a defense and are adequately detailed to prevent a defendant from being tried twice for the same offense, they should be given a fair and not overly restrictive or technical reading,” (People v. Casey, 95 NY2d 354 ), the Court denied the dismissal.
Remember, the legal standard to challenge the sufficiency of an information (the accusatory instrument) is not as high as the probable cause standard for proof beyond a reasonable doubt at trial. Although the defendant may have had a greater ability to succeed in an acquittal at trial, the much lower standard at the time of arrest and the when legally challenging the information benefits the prosecution – not the defendant. His failure here, depending on his defense a trial, did not preclude success at a later stage in the process.
As stated ad nauseum throughout the blogs, every single case may have to follow the same legal precedent or case law (barring you creating new law), but it is the facts and evidence, or what is articulated at that particular stage of the criminal process, that will dictate defenses to your case. Can you be prosecuted for possessing stolen goods without being involved in the theft or charged with the same? You certainly can, but the strength and weakness of that case will rise or fall on the direct and circumstantial evidence of your knowledge, intent and conduct.
Crotty Saland PC is a New York criminal defense firm routinely representing clients in New York City and the region for crimes, investigations, arrests and trials for misdemeanor and felony theft and fraud offenses.