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Dealing in Stolen Property Lawyers

Dealing in Stolen Property – A Lawyer’s Perspective

Dealing in stolen property can lead to some serious legal troubles. As a lawyer, I’ve seen folks get wrapped up in receiving or selling hot merchandise without realizing the consequences. Let’s break down the laws and talk about the defenses so you can avoid accidentally dealing in stolen goods.

What is “Dealing in Stolen Property”?

Basically, dealing in stolen property means you buy, sell, receive, or help hide property that you know – or should reasonably know – was obtained through theft, robbery, fraud, or burglary. Even if you weren’t the one who originally stole the item, you can be charged if you knowingly traffic the stolen merchandise.

The legal term is “trafficking in stolen property.” It’s sometimes called “fencing” stolen goods. Most states have laws against it in their criminal codes.

Examples of Dealing in Stolen Property

Some common examples I’ve seen:

  • Buying a laptop from someone at a crazy cheap price, then reselling it on Craigslist even though you suspect it’s stolen.
  • Going to a pawn shop and buying jewelry or tools you know are hot.
  • Helping store stolen goods in your home or storage unit for a cut of the profits when the thief sells them.
  • Acting as a middleman to connect thieves with buyers for stolen cell phones, computers, cars, art, or other loot.
  • Owning or working at a pawn shop, secondhand store, or flea market and buying obviously stolen merchandise to resell.
  • Listing stolen items for sale on auction sites, social media, or e-commerce platforms.

The main thing is knowingly possessing, selling, storing, or helping to sell merchandise obtained illegally. Even if you didn’t steal it yourself, trafficking in stolen property can get you arrested.

Dealing vs Receiving Stolen Property

In some states, there are separate charges for “receiving stolen property” vs “dealing in stolen property”.

Receiving is when you obtain possession of something you know is stolen.

Dealing is actively trafficking, buying, selling, transferring, or storing stolen goods.

Dealing usually has harsher punishments because it involves furthering the crime by moving the stolen property. Both are illegal though!

Federal vs State Laws

Most states have laws prohibiting dealing or receiving stolen property. Charges are often brought at the state level.

But if the stolen item crossed state lines or violates federal laws, you could face federal charges too. For example, trafficking stolen firearms, cars, artwork, or valuables like jewelry often leads to federal cases.

So be aware – state and federal prosecutors may come after you for the same crime.

Penalties and Punishments

The penalties for dealing in stolen property depend on the state and circumstances. But here are some common consequences I’ve seen defendants face:

  • Felony charges – This can mean substantial prison time, often 2-10 years or more.
  • Fines – Could be $10,000+ depending on the value of the stolen property.
  • Probation – May have to complete probation and community service.
  • Restitution – Having to repay victims for the stolen items.
  • Asset forfeiture – Property like cars or cash may be seized if connected to the crime.
  • Civil liability – Victims can sue you for money damages in civil court.
  • Criminal record – Harder to get jobs, housing, loans etc with a record.
  • Loss of business license – If caught fencing stolen goods at your pawn shop or flea market booth.

So while it may seem harmless at first, trafficking stolen property can ruin your life if you get caught. It’s not worth the risk!

Defenses Against Dealing in Stolen Goods Charges

If you’re accused of dealing in stolen property, having a solid legal defense is crucial. Here are some common defenses I’ve used to fight these charges:

You Didn’t Know it Was Stolen

Lack of knowledge is the #1 defense. If you can show you had no idea the item was obtained illegally, you may beat the charges. But mere denial isn’t enough – you need evidence like:

  • Receipts, paperwork, or proof of purchase showing where you got the item.
  • Witnesses who can verify you purchased the goods in good faith.
  • Evidence you paid fair market value rather than an unusually cheap price.


This argues police coerced you into committing the crime when you otherwise wouldn’t have. For example, if an undercover cop pressured you repeatedly to buy stolen goods.

Duress or Necessity

Claiming you only dealt in the stolen property because of threats against you or financial desperation. While not a complete defense, it may reduce the charges.

Violation of Your Rights

If police violated your rights by searching without a warrant or seizing property improperly, the case could get thrown out.

Mistake of Fact

You can claim you mistakenly thought the property wasn’t stolen – like if you bought a used phone from a stranger assuming it was legit.

Statute of Limitations

If too much time passed between the crime and charges being filed, the case could be dismissed.

A good lawyer can evaluate the evidence and determine if any of these defenses apply in your case. Don’t just plead guilty without exploring your options first.

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