Believe it or not, simply being in possession of stolen property is a crime in New Jersey. The law formally refers to the offense as “receiving stolen property.” No matter what it is called, it is imperative that a person understands what is at stake if he/she is caught with stolen property.
What is Receiving Stolen Property?
Under N.J.S.A. 2C:20-7, a person can be convicted of receiving stolen property if he/she knowingly received or bought the movable property of another into New Jersey while knowing that it has been stolen or believing that it probably was stolen.
Notice that the statute uses the word knowing twice. This is not redundant.
In order to be found guilty, a person first must have known that he/she received the goods and then he/she must have known (or reasonably believed) that the goods were stolen. In other words, a person who did not know that he/she was in receipt of the stolen goods cannot be guilty. Likewise, a person who had no reason to suspect that the goods were stolen also cannot be guilty.
Similarly, anyone who receives stolen property with the purpose of restoring it to the true owner is not guilty.
Moreover, for the purposes of this law, “receiving” involves acquiring possession, control, or title over the property. Lending on the security of the property is also considered “receiving” it. In certain circumstances, the law will presume that a person had the requisite level of knowledge.
For example, if any of the following occur, New Jersey law will presume that a person knew that he/she received the goods and knew (or reasonably believed) that the goods were stolen:
- He/she is in possession or control of two or more items of property that were stolen on two or more separate occasions.
- He/she received stolen property in another transaction within the year preceding the transaction he/she is now involved in and being charged for.
- He/she is a person who is in the business of buying or selling the kind of property that was received but failed to find out (by reasonable inquiry) that the person from whom he/she got the property had a legal right to possess and dispose of it before acquiring it.
- He/she is found in possession of two or more defaced access devices.
Penalties and Fines
Under N.J.S.A. 2C:20-11, the penalties for receiving stolen property are based on the value of the item found in one’s possession. If the property was valued at more than $75,000, one can be imprisoned for 5 to 10 years and fined up to $150,000 (second-degree crime).
If the property was valued at more than $500 but less than $75,000, one can be imprisoned for 3 to 5 years and fined up to $15,000 (third-degree crime). If the property was valued at $200 to $500, one can be imprisoned for 18 months and fined up to $10,000 (fourth-degree crime).
For property valued at less than $200, one can be sentenced to 6 months in jail and fined up to $1,000 (disorderly persons offense).
How to Beat Possession of Stolen Property
A conviction for receiving stolen property in New Jersey is serious. In many cases, it may be possible to beat the charge by preventing the prosecution from proving the defendant knew the property to be stolen. In other cases, the right strategy may be to disprove possession.
New Jersey recognizes two kinds of “possession”—actual possession (one had the item on his/her person) and constructive possession (the person had authority or intent to exercise control over the item). For example, one might prevent constructive possession from being proven in situations where the item is found in a home when multiple people are present but no one had actual possession or it was otherwise unclear who had constructive possession.
Only an experienced NJ criminal defense attorney will know how to beat a receiving stolen property charge.
Case Law Analysis
State v. Serrano, 53 N.J. 356, 359 establishes that being a passenger inside of a stolen vehicle does not imply possession of the vehicle. Serrano is cited in State v. McCoy, 561 A. 2d 582, where the defendant sought to overturn a guilty plea for receiving a stolen vehicle, despite multiple past convictions for the same offense.
In McCoy, the defendant was arrested only after touching the roof of the vehicle and fleeing upon arrival of the police. He admitted to knowing that the vehicle in question was stolen but claimed he only intended to “ride around in it.”
The court noted that a person’s words or actions, along with other evidence, may sufficiently substantiate a relationship to stolen property and support an inference of possession. For example, in State v. Bozeyowski, 77 N.J. Super. 49, 57-58, police observed the defendant unloading beer from a stolen truck. This was sufficient for the jury to infer that the defendant had constructive possession of the truck.
However, these kinds of circumstances were not present in the case of McCoy. Thus the court allowed the defendant to withdraw the guilty plea.
One final case worth noting is State v. Alexander, 215 NJ Super. 523. Here the defendant was convicted based on a variety of evidence and other conduct that implied knowledge of the item’s status as stolen. This includes being found in possession of the property within six hours of its reported theft, living in close proximity to the place of the theft, and giving police false information during questioning.
Consequences for a First Offense
Being caught in possession of stolen property can mean facing serious penalties, including jail time and a permanent criminal record. Depending on the severity of the charge, if this is a person’s first offense it may be possible to negotiate with prosecutors and/or the judge for a lighter sentence or an alternative sentence that does not include jail time. This may include a suspended sentence or participation in the Sheriff’s Labor Assistance Program (SLAP).
A person should never attempt to engage in such negotiations on his/her own; instead, hire a skilled criminal defense attorney to evaluate the case and determine the best strategy to avoid a conviction or minimize the consequences.
Consequences for Juveniles
Young people (under the age of 18) can potentially come into possession of stolen property without knowing it. They may not realize that a person selling something on the street or that an item given to them by a trusted friend or relative is stolen. Even in situations where a reasonable adult might have suspected something was stolen, a young person may not have noticed the potential warning signs.
It is important for any parent or guardian whose child has been charged with receiving stolen property to get expert advice from a criminal defense attorney. The right attorney can advocate for the child’s innocence in the matter, explaining why someone of his/her age could not possibly have understood that the item(s) in question was stolen.
In some cases, the attorney can negotiate with prosecutors to reduce the charge to a lesser offense with less severe penalties and fight to ensure the child receives an alternative sentence to detention. This may include community service, counseling, or (if applicable) a suspension of driving privileges.
Expunge Possessing Stolen Property
It is possible in some cases for a person to file a petition to have his/her criminal record cleared. New Jersey will allow expungement of a criminal record if a person has no more than 5 disorderly persons offenses or 1 indictable offense and 3 disorderly persons offenses.
While some offenses can render one ineligible for expungement, receiving stolen property is not one of them. However, if the offense was charged as a fourth-degree crime (indictable offense) or higher, then it must be the only such conviction on the record.
In order to apply, a person must wait either 5 or 6 years after the completion of any sentencing. Learn more about the NJ expungement process, and consult with an attorney before applying.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who Should I Contact?
If you or a loved one has been charged with possession of stolen property in New Jersey (i.e. receiving stolen property in NJ), contact the attorneys of Rosenblum Law. Our team of skilled New Jersey criminal defense attorneys will do all they can to protect your legal rights, fight to keep you out of jail and minimize the potential consequences. E-mail or call 888-815-3649 today.