Welcome to Beerup Law
Ruth Beerup is a St. Charles criminal defense attorney who represents clients accused of property crimes in every jurisdiction in the St. Louis area. She has more than 25 years of experience and is known for being a talented negotiator and strong advocate for her client's rights. You can give her a call at 636-940-1111 to discuss your case, free of charge and at no obligation.
Receiving Stolen Property Definition
In Missouri, receiving stolen property is covered by the stealing statute, RSMo 570.030. It states that a person commits the offense of stealing if they receive, retain, or dispose of the property of another (for the purpose of depriving the owner of that property), and they know or believe that the property has been stolen.
Because it is in the same statute, receiving stolen property has the same penalties as stealing. The statute is somewhat complicated, with a wide range of punishment from a minor misdemeanor to the highest level of felony. The various categories are described in more detail here. It is safe to say that most receiving stolen property cases will involve property valued between $750 and $24999 and will therefore be a class D felony. This is a serious felony, punishable by up to 7 years in prison.
How Does the State Determine the Value of the Property?
Determination of value is covered by RSMo 570.020. That statute says that “value” means the market value of the property at the time and place of the crime. If that cannot be determined, it shall be the cost of replacing the property within a reasonable time after the crime. If the property is from a store, the price that the property is typically sold at will be the value.
The statute, clearly, could use some clarification, and certain cases have provided it. In State v. Johnson 461 S.W. 3d 842, the appellate court held that jurors can use common sense and life experiences to determine value. This serves as a kind of first step to determining value. If the property is obviously above the threshold (now $750, was $500 at the time of the case), then the state or jurors can use common sense to figure that out. In the Johnson case, the defendant stole two laptops, an iPad, an iPhone, a small amount of cash, and approximately $200 worth of jewelry. The court determined that the value of those items, even if they were not new, was clearly above the threshold, and the jury could use common sense to determine that.
If a common-sense determination cannot ascertain the property's value, the appellate court in State v. Petalino 890 S.W. 2d 679 held that the owner of the property's testimony as to the purchase price, the amount of time between the purchase and the theft, and the property's condition when it was stolen is sufficient to determine the value. This case dealt with a fairly common item, a radar detector. In cases where the stolen property is less common, the owner's testimony as to the value can be the only recourse. In State v. Slocum 420 S.W. 3d 685, a rare mandolin was stolen. Absent any other good way to determine the worth, the court relied on the owner's testimony as an accurate measure.
How Can the State Prove That You Knew Property Was Stolen?
Unless you confess that you knew that the property was stolen, the state will have to use circumstantial evidence. This evidence can take many forms. The Missouri Supreme Court case State v. Langdon 110 S.W. 3d 807 provides a good summary of the varieties of circumstantial evidence.
If you buy or sell something at an unrealistic price in a non-commercial setting, that can be used as an indicator that you knew it was stolen. New items at any significant discount are going to draw suspicion. Lying to law enforcement about where you got the item can be taken as proof that you knew (or at least suspected) that it was stolen. Additionally, the presence of property stolen from multiple locations can be taken as evidence of knowledge of the illegal provenance of the goods.
Having possession of a stolen item shortly after it was stolen can show that you knew the property was stolen. There is no hard and fast rule about this, but it seems to vary based on how common the item is and how likely it is to be sold person-to-person in a legitimate sale. Like most circumstantial evidence in these cases, it boils down to whether or not a reasonable person would have reasonable suspicion that the item in question was stolen.
What Is the Best Defense Against a Receiving Stolen Property Charge?
Step number one is to hire an experienced defense attorney. Receiving stolen property is a serious charge, often a felony, and it is not something you should try to handle on your own. A defense attorney can assess your case and hopefully find weaknesses in law enforcement's allegations. Worst case scenario, they can negotiate with the prosecutor to get a reduction in charges or a sanction that you find acceptable. Hopefully, they can find a flaw in the state's case that can lead to a dismissal or win at trial.
The weakness in the state's case is usually that they have to prove that you knew the property was stolen. State v. Langdon, mentioned above, is an instructive case in this regard. The defendant was convicted of receiving stolen property by virtue of a stolen handgun found in a bedroom dresser drawer. Police had evidence that implicated the defendant's stepson in a burglary, but they did not arrest him. The case went all the way to the Missouri Supreme Court who held that there was no real proof to indicate that the defendant knew the gun was stolen. A significant thing to keep in mind regarding this case is that the defendant "did not give any statement either admitting or denying that the room was his, that the gun was his, or that he knew about the existence of the gun or believed that it was stolen." State v. Langdon, 110 S.W.3d 807 (Mo. 2003).
The value of the stolen property can also be disputed, usually in an effort to get it under the felony threshold. In State v. Smith 504 S.W. 3d 894, the defendant was accused of stealing a laptop. At trial, evidence was introduced that the laptop's value when purchased was slightly above the felony threshold, but no testimony was given as to the condition of the laptop when it was stolen or how much time had elapsed between purchase and theft. Therefore, there was no way to determine the value of the laptop at the time of the crime. The felony conviction was overturned, and the court ordered that the defendant be sentenced to a misdemeanor.
State v. Boyd 91 S.W. 3d 727 offers a more extreme example. The defendant was convicted of a felony for being in possession of a stolen motorcycle. Testimony was given at the trial that the bike had been purchased the year before for $3500 and had been in an accident that had damaged it “not very much.” This testimony was held by the appellate court to be too indefinite to give jurors enough evidence to reasonably decide the motorcycle's value at the time and place of the crime. The felony threshold was found not to have been met, and the defendant was sentenced to a misdemeanor.
As you can see from this brief discussion, the law concerning receiving stolen property is complicated. It takes an experienced defense attorney to make the necessary arguments to get a good outcome in cases like these. St. Charles based defense attorney Ruth Beerup has the experience and knowledge to defend you. Give her a call at 636-940-1111 to see if she can help.