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Best Defenses to a Stolen Property Charge

By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

You don't have to have burglarized a home to be charged with a crime relating to the burglary. Even if you were never there and don't know the thief, you can get arrested for buying or receiving stolen goods. And of course if you are charged with the actual theft, you could be in even bigger trouble.

But a charge of theft, larceny, or receipt of stolen goods doesn't necessarily mean you're guilty. Here are the best defenses to a stolen property charge:

"It's Mine."

While the criminal justice system doesn't encourage taking matters in to your own hands, if the property that was "stolen" was yours in the first place, that may be a defense to theft or larceny. Police officers, if asked, would probably tell you not to track down your stolen bike on Craigslist, contact the "owner," arrange for a test drive, and steal your stolen bike back. But if you're facing criminal charges, and you have evidence supporting your claim of ownership, you may be able to get the charges dismissed or win at trial.

"I'm Just Borrowing It."

Along with the knowledge that the property isn't yours, most statutes on theft include an intent to deprive the true owner of his or her property permanently. Therefore, if you're legitimately just borrowing something -- meaning you had some sort of permission to obtain the property and intended to return it -- it may not rise to the level of a crime.

"I Didn't Know It Was Stolen."

This really applies to charges of buying or receiving stolen goods. Most state statutes require a person to know that the property was stolen in order to be convicted. For example, California prohibits buying, selling, obtaining, concealing property "knowing the property to be so stolen or obtained." In Alabama, a person can be convicted of receiving stolen property if they receive, retain, or dispose of the property "knowing that it has been stolen or having reasonable grounds to believe it has been stolen." So if you truly didn't know or have reason to believe that the property you bought or received was stolen, you might be off the hook.

Along with these, there are many other procedural arguments an experienced criminal defense attorney can make. If you've been charged with a stolen property offense, contact one near you as soon as possible.

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