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New York Criminal Possession of Stolen Property: Must the Prosecution Establish Your Knowledge the Property You Possessed was Stolen

You possess a $15,000.00 Rolex watch without the permission of the owner. You have an iPhone belonging to another person and he or she never gave you permission or authority to possess it. Certainly, if the owner never gave you the right to take, possess or have his or her property, whatever it may be and irrespective of its value, the fact that you possessed that property without a right to do so is proof of your guilt of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property pursuant to New York Penal Law Article 165? Although much depends on how prosecutors draft an accusatory instrument, without more than asserting you didn’t have permission, your criminal lawyer may successfully secure a dismissal of the complaint alleging Criminal Possession of Stolen Property.

In pertinent part, you are guilty of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property when you both knowingly possess the stolen property and when you do so with the purpose or objective to benefit yourself or a third party or, alternatively, to prevent the recovery of the property by the rightful owner. Just like Petit Larceny and Grand Larceny, if the amount or value of the property in question exceeds $1,000, $3,000, $50,000 or $1,000,000 the degree of the felony is enhanced in severity.

With the above in mind, let’s return to the question or issues addressed in the first paragraph. Is evidence only of your possession of property without permission, but not your knowledge it was stolen, either in a criminal court complaint or at trial sufficient to establish or prove any degree of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property? Fortunately, for those accused of crimes, the burden upon the District Attorney is far greater than merely confirming you lacked authority. In fact, because you, the accused, must knowingly possess stolen property, an essential element of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property is not merely that you possessed it without permission or authority, but that you knew the property “was stolen by someone.” This long-standing rule is not merely codified, albeit in different words, in New York Penal Law 165.40 and the related felony charges, but in case law. As recent as November 15, 2017, the First Department, the appellate court handling appeals from numerous counties including Manhattan and the Bronx, held that a complaint merely alleging that a defendant possessed a printer without the permission of the rightful owner was legally defective. Why? Citing, People v. Mc Farland, 181 AD2d 1007 (1992) and People v. Corsetti, 10 AD2d 685 (1960), knowledge that the item was stolen is not only paramount, but mandatory in a prosecution for Criminal Possession of Stolen Property.

The above cases may be critical to your defense or have limited value if the prosecution sufficiently establishes your knowledge of the property’s stolen nature. That said, there are numerous ways to challenge, and potentially defeat, an arrest for Criminal Possession of Stolen Property depending on the evidence, the applicable law as applied and even possible mitigating factors.

To further educate yourself on theft crimes including Criminal Possession of Stolen Property, Petit Larceny and Grand Larceny, this blog, as well as the sites and website pages linked above and below, contain significant and easily readable materials to provide you with a strong foundation for further review with your criminal defense lawyer.

Saland Law PC is a criminal defense law practice based in Manhattan serving clients throughout the City of New York and the Hudson Valley. Prior to starting the criminal law practice, the founding partners of Saland Law PC served as prosecutors in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.

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