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Circumstantial Evidence and Legal Presumptions: Indirect Proof of Knowledge Can Lead to Criminal Possession of Stolen Property Conviction

In New York, like any other state, evidence can be either direct or circumstantial. While it would be easy for a District Attorney’s Office and local police department to observe a theft and larceny related crime first hand, crime, or alleged crime, simply doesn’t work that way. Whether the arrest offense is the taking, a larceny, or the criminal possession, certain actions and statements without direct proof can provide the police with probable cause and the prosecution with proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Although this means of prosecuting crimes in New York is relevant to any offense, the following case reflects how it can directly impact an arrest for Criminal Possession of Stolen Property pursuant to New York Penal Law Article 165.

In People v. Colon, 2016 NY Slip Op 50558 (2nd Dept. 2016), the Yonkers Police arrested the defendant in where he ultimately was prosecuted and convicted in a non jury trial before a Yonkers City Court Judge (its of no consequence that the case originated in Yonkers as the law is applicable in New York City and other municipalities as well). The conviction for Fifth Degree Criminal Possession of Stolen Property, New York Penal Law 165.40, a class A misdemeanor, involved the possession of a toolbox and tools belonging to a business and not the defendant. The nature of the charge reflects that evidence that the value of the property did not exceed $1,000 or the offense would have been the class E felony of Fourth Degree Criminal Possession of Stolen Property.

In finding a defendant guilty of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt, the law allows that “[k]nowledge that property is stolen ‘may be shown circumstantially by conduct or directly by admission, or indirectly by contradictory statements from which guilt may be inferred'” (People v Reisman, 29 NY2d 278, 285-286 [1971]; see Cintron, 95 NY2d at 332; People v Zorcik, 67 NY2d 670, 671 [1986]), and “the unexplained or falsely explained recent exclusive possession of the fruits of a crime allow a [factfinder] to draw a permissible inference that defendant knew the property was stolen” (People v Landfair, 191 AD2d 825, 826 [1993]; see People v Baskerville, 60 NY2d 374, 382 [1983]; People v Chandler, 104 AD3d 618 [2013]).

Applying the law as reflected above, it was reasonable that the court found the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. First, the defendant made an admission to the police (always a mistake) that he possessed the stolen property and then abandoned the property only after the police came. This statement along with the defendant’s actions coupled with his inability to explain how he had come into possession of the property just after it had been stolen from another person’s vehicle, allowed for such a conclusion.

If the defendant exercised his right to remain silent and refrain from self incrimination have altered the trajectory of this case? If the defendant presented a reasonable reason as to why he possessed missing property stolen from a pickup truck shortly before his arrest been the difference between guilt or innocence? The answer to these questions are not easy ones and likely depend on the strength and veracity of that evidence. Regardless, the principle and lesson is one not to ignore or forget. Evidence of guilt need not be direct. Common sense, along with proof beyond a reasonable doubt, allows for presumptions that can land you not merely in a jail waiting to see a judge, but a prison after he or she convicts you.

To prepare yourself in defense of a Criminal Possession of Stolen Property crime regardless of the value associated with this offense, read about the law, the felonies and misdemeanors and the practical application of the same. Moreover, with case results and definitions of numerous fraud and White Collar crimes, this blog as well as the websites and blogs linked below is a tremendous resource to commence your defense.

Crotty Saland PC, a New York criminal defense law firm dedicated to the representation of clients accused of, arrested for or facing trial in any theft related crime,

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