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Can Possessing Stolen Property from Multiple People be Added Together to Increase the Charge and Penalty of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property

Generally, the New York Penal Law is clear as it relates to Criminal Possession of Stolen Property and aggregating the value of that property from different complainants. That is, if, for example, you had a stolen iPhone, guitar, and cash from three different people, each item could constitute a separate crime of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property. So, if the iPhone was worth $850, the guitar $650, and the cash totaled $100, are prosecutors “stuck” merely charging a defendant with three misdemeanor offenses? Instead, might a District Attorney add all of this property together for one count of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Fourth Degree, New York Penal Law 165.45? Because possessing stolen property exceeding $1,000.00 is a class “E” felony, it certainly behooves the District Attorney to charge you not with three counts of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Fifth Degree, New York Penal Law 165.40, but one crime that carries more weight. All of this said, whether a prosecutor wants to charge a particular offense does not mean that he or she can. So…can the District Attorney aggregate the value of multiple pieces of allegedly stolen property in your possession belonging to different complainants? The short answer, and one you will likely discuss further with your criminal lawyer, is “yes.”

In People v. Buckley, 75 N.Y.2d 843 (1990), the New York State Court of Appeals was tasked with determining when and how an arrest and ultimate conviction for one aggregated felony count of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property can stem from multiple smaller crimes that would otherwise make up distinct charges. Prosecutors accused Buckley of, among other things, possessing four radar guns belonging to four different people. After a finding of guilt as to Second Degree Criminal Possession of Stolen Property, Buckley appealed on the ground that “owner” is singular as per the applicable statute and as such, each victim represents one crime. Disagreeing with, and deciding against Buckley, the Court upheld the conviction involving the summed up value and greater degree of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property. The judges found that “…unlike separate and unrelated thefts from different persons, which cannot be combined to form grand larceny (see, People v. Thiel, 26 A.D.2d 897, 274 N.Y.S.2d 417) unless committed pursuant to a single intent and common plan (see, People v. Cox, 286 N.Y. 137, 36 N.E.2d 84; People v. Perlstein, 97 A.D.2d 482, 484, 467 N.Y.S.2d 682), simultaneous possession of stolen property belonging to different persons can be considered one offense and the value of the property aggregated to constitute an aggravated charge of criminal possession of stolen property.”

While it is unlikely that in the midst of a theft or when possessing property illegally one will think of Buckley and related cases, these decisions are nonetheless of critical import to one’s defense and respective defense counsel’s strategy. Whether your arrest involves three or fifteen alleged victims, what may seem to be only a misdemeanor or lower level felony may in fact be something quite more serious. Where thresholds from misdemeanor to felony and from lower felony degrees to higher ones start at in excess of $1,000.00, $3,000.00, $50,000.00 and $1 million, the potential for increased exposure and significant penalties are frighteningly real.

To best understand the criminal degrees and penalties of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property, as well as the elements of these offenses, review the links provided herein.

Crotty Saland PC is a criminal defense law firm representing clients in all theft, fraud and larceny related schemes, investigations, arrests and crimes throughout the City of New York, the counties of the Hudson Valley and many other municipalities throughout the state. Before representing both victims and the accused, Crotty Saland PC’s founding partners served as Manhattan prosecutors.