Possession of stolen goods

Officers of the Vancouver Police Department checking for stolen goods at a flea market

Possession of stolen goods is a crime in which an individual has bought, been given, or acquired stolen goods some other way (other than they themselves having stolen them).

In many jurisdictions, if an individual has accepted possession of goods or property and knew they were stolen, then the individual is typically charged with a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the value of the stolen goods. If the individual did not know the goods were stolen, then the goods are returned to the owner and the individual is not prosecuted. However, there are often exceptions, due to the difficulty of proving or disproving an individual's knowledge that the goods were stolen.

Nature of offence by country


The Criminal Code specifies three offences:

  • Possession of property obtained by crime (s. 354)[1]
  • Trafficking in property obtained by crime (ss. 355.2)[2]
  • Possession of property obtained by crime for the purposes of trafficking (ss. 355.4)[2]

The basic definition for the possession offence (which is almost identical in wording for the trafficking offences) is as follows:

354. (1) Every one commits an offence who has in his possession any property or thing or any proceeds of any property or thing knowing that all or part of the property or thing or of the proceeds was obtained by or derived directly or indirectly from

(a) the commission in Canada of an offence punishable by indictment; or
(b) an act or omission anywhere that, if it had occurred in Canada, would have constituted an offence punishable by indictment.

Where the value of the property is greater than $5,000, the maximum punishment on indictment is 10 years for possession only, and 14 years if related to trafficking. Otherwise, the maximum on indictment is two years and five years respectively, or alternatively punishment by summary conviction. (ss 355 and 355.5)


In Scotland, this crime is called reset.[3] It includes property that was taken by theft or robbery as well as property taken by breaches of trust including embezzlement, fraud and willful imposition.[4]

United States

In the United States, Receipt of stolen property is a federal crime under 18 U.S.C. § 2315, defined as knowingly receiving, concealing, or disposing of stolen property with a value of at least $5,000 that also constitutes interstate commerce (i.e., has been transported across state lines).

A person can be found guilty of that offense only if all of the following facts are proven:

The government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person either received, concealed, stored, sold, or disposed of the stolen property.

To be guilty of the offense, a person must know that the property had been stolen, but he need not know that it was moving as, or constituted a part of, interstate commerce. The term "interstate commerce" merely refers to the movement of property from one U.S. state into another; and it is sufficient if the property has recently moved interstate as a result of a transaction or a series of related transactions that have not been fully completed or consummated at the time of the person's acts as alleged.

All US states also have laws regarding receipt of stolen property; however, there usually is no minimum dollar amount in many jurisdictions, and, of course, the requirement in Federal law regarding interstate commerce does not apply. Also, in many states (Ohio, for example), the burden to prove criminal intent is not as stringent or is nonexistent.[5] This means that one can be charged with the crime - usually a minor degree of felony - even if the person did not know the item in question was stolen. In the Ohio case of State v. Awad, the goods did not need to actually be stolen, just represented as such.[6]

Receiving stolen property and possession of stolen property are treated as separate offenses in some jurisdictions. The distinguishing element is when the person knew that the property was stolen. If the person knew that the property was stolen at the time he received it, the crime is receiving stolen property. If the person did not know the property was stolen at the time she received it but found out after receiving possession, the crime is possession of stolen property.

The state must prove that the defendant received or possessed the property for a dishonest purpose. If, for example, the person acquired possession for the purpose of returning the property to its lawful owner, no crime has been committed.

See also


  1. Criminal Code, s. 354
  2. 1 2 Criminal Code, ss. 355.1 - 355.4
  3. Criminal Law (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 1995, Section 51, Reset, retrieved 2009-04-16
  4. Lying to the police about the location of known stolen goods has been sufficient to be prosecuted for reset, as it aids the criminal in retaining the goods.
  5. Ohio Revised Code, 2913.51 Receiving stolen property, retrieved 2009-04-16
  6. State v. Awad, 164 Ohio App.3d 528 (Court of Appeals, First Appellate District of Ohio 2005).

External links

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