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Establishing Knowledge of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property: Understanding Circumstantial Evidence in a New York Penal Law Article 165 Arrest

A sister crime that is equal to Grand Larceny and Petit Larceny, but established through distinct elements in New York, is Criminal Possession of Stolen Property. Ranging from an “A” misdemeanor up to varying felonies, Criminal Possession of Stolen Property encompasses both actual possession of stolen property and constructive possession of the same. The latter of these types of possessions involve situations where an individual might have control over an area where the stolen property is recovered. For example, instead of cash, stolen credit cards or or other property being recovered from an accused’s pocket, that same property may still be attributable to the defendant if it is recovered from the accused’s nightstand or vehicle console.

Regardless of how one is alleged to possess stolen property or the value of that property, one must still have the requisite knowledge that one is possessing property that is stolen. After all, if your criminal defense attorney can argue that the $7,500 Breitling watch on your wrist may be stolen, but you possessed it without the requisite knowledge that it was stolen, then you have not perpetrated Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Third Degree in violation of New York Penal Law 165.50. So, if knowledge is an essential component or element to any Article 165 crime, how can prosectors establish and New York criminal defense attorneys defend against this knowledge element? Barring an admission that you knew you had possessed stolen property, what type of circumstantial evidence can be used against you or in support of an Assistant District Attorney’s claim?

Although the answers to the above questions are not always black and white, the following should shed some light on examples in which the circumstantial evidence did or did not support the element of knowledge:

People v. Pharr, 288 A.D.2d 239 (2nd Dept. 2001)

Court found that the People established the requisite knowledge the defendant knew the car he was driving was stolen after he reckless fled with the vehicle, abandoned the vehicle and fled on foot after it crashed and had recent exclusive possession of that vehicle.

People v. Bethune, 65 A.D.3d 749 (3rd Dept. 2009)

Knowledge element satisfied where the defendant was seen on video entering a building with one lap top case and exited carrying two lap top cases from an office he was not authorized to enter.

People v. Checkman, 284 A.D. 44 (4th Dept. 1954)

“A finding of carelessness, negligence or indolence in investigation is not a substitute for guilty knowledge.”

People v Lewis, 125 A.D.2d 918 (3rd Dept. 1986)

Defendant found in possession of beer that was stolen from beverage center. Defendant was at beverage center at the time of the theft. Court stated that “[w]here a defendant is found in exclusive possession of property soon after the crime and there is no evidence that defendant may have received the contraband from an accomplice, or possession is unexplained or falsely explained, a jury is permitted to draw an inference of culpable knowledge.” Citing People v. Johnson, 65 NY2d 556, 562 (1985)

Obviously, the four case examples listed above are mere snapshots into the hundreds of cases that have dissected the circumstantial knowledge issue in New York Criminal Possession of Stolen Property arrests, indictments and trials. It is likely that if you are accused of any degree of Criminal Possession of Stolen property, and you wisely did not make any admission, prosecutors will rely on the library of cases to establish your knowledge that the property you possessed was stolen. It is equally likely that your criminal lawyer will use the same to corroborate your defense or challenge the People’s allegations.

For better or worse, this blog entry will not qive you the silver bullet in defending yourself against a Criminal Possession of Stolen Property arrest or indictment, but it certainly can be the jump off point to educate yourself on the applicable laws and statutes and to begin your conversations with your criminal defense attorney.

To better understand Criminal Possession of Stolen Property, the varying degrees of the crime and the legal decisions that apply to its enforcement and application, a review of this blog, the links above and the websites below will be of great service.

Saland Law PC is a New York theft and larceny criminal defense firm representing clients in all stages of white collar criminal investigations, arrests and trials. The founding New York criminal defense attorneys and former Manhattan prosecutors at Saland Law PC represent clients in New York City as well as the surrounding counties and municipalities.

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