The ease of selling items on Gumtree, eBay and Facebook these days makes it an easy avenue for thieves to sell stolen property quickly, relatively anonymously and unlawfully. However, theft is not the only crime in this situation; the Summary Offences Act 2005 includes the offence of unlawfully possessing stolen property. Therefore, buyers need to also beware they are not caught up in this illegal activity.
Having knowledge or reasonable suspicion that the property was stolen
Receiving stolen property and having it in your possession is considered a crime. This law aims to deter people from aiding or rewarding thieves by buying stolen property or concealing stolen property.
For a police officer to charge an individual with unlawful possession of stolen property, they first must prove that the individual knew it was stolen or had reasonable suspicion. Either of these two elements being met put you in danger of criminal charges.
Reasonable suspicion is when someone is not certain the items were lawfully passed onto them. Have you ever heard the phrase when purchasing something, “This is a steal!” Well, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. You could therefore have reasonable suspicion of how this item came to be yours for such a low price (or for free). In this instance of reasonable suspicion while still obtaining stolen property, you could face a maximum penalty of up to one year imprisonment.
Actual knowledge is when you are aware that the property has been stolen or illegally obtained, yet still agree to take possession of it. While you may not have been there when the offence was taking place, your knowledge of this theft is an offence and you can be charged with receiving stolen property. This offence faces a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment and is dealt with in the District Court.
What if you did not know the property was stolen?
Even if you are to discover the property was stolen after accepting it, but you still intend on keeping it, or choose to resell it onto someone else, then you are still guilty of possessing stolen property.
Possible defences to unlawful possession of stolen property
Some of the possible defences available for those charged with receiving stolen goods include:
- That you did not actually receive the property;
- That the property was not stolen;
- That you were not knowledgeable or suspicious of how the goods were obtained; and
- If you were pressured to accept the goods, you could claim duress.
What help is available?
If you have been accused of theft you should speak to a criminal defence lawyer to learn more about your rights, your defences and the criminal justice system.