There was recently a high-profile case in New York involving a couple that owned a diamond pendant that turned out to be stolen property. The rightful owner had loaned the pendant to someone, who in turn sold the item without permission. The diamond then changed hands several times over the next decade before the couple received it as a gift. A New York court ultimately ruled they had to return the pendant.
But was the couple also criminally liable for theft? No, because they did not know the pendant was stolen—and given the lengthy chain of events between the original theft and their taking possession, there was no reason they should have known.
Texas Law and Stolen Property
In Texas, theft is defined as the “unlawful appropriation of property.” That is to say, theft occurs when someone takes property without the owner’s “effective consent.” A person who intentionally possesses, sells, or receives unlawfully appropriated property is just as guilty of theft as the original thief.
The key when it comes to proving someone has illegally received stolen property is whether or not they knew it was, in fact, stolen. Merely having a stolen item in your possession does not make you a criminal. A prosecutor must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that you had actual or constructive knowledge that the item was stolen. Actual knowledge is generally easier to prove. If you read a report in a newspaper that a valuable jewel has been stolen, and the next day someone gives you that same jewel, you have actual knowledge.
Constructive knowledge, in contrast, is often much more difficult to prove in court. Constructive knowledge basically means “you should have known” the item was likely stolen. In the New York case, the couple had no reason to even suspect they had stolen property. The diamond pendant was a gift from a family member, who in turn purchased the item from a reputable dealer. Indeed, even the dealer had no actual or constructive knowledge the diamond was stolen.
On the other hand, if you buy a valuable diamond pendant from an unlicensed street dealer, a court may conclude you should have known it was probably stolen and therefore you had constructive knowledge.
Get Help from a Galveston Receiving Stolen Property Attorney
Theft is a serious matter. If law enforcement has reason to suspect you have received stolen property, you should consult an experienced Houston criminal defense attorney immediately. Remember, possession does not by itself prove you are guilty of theft, and the burden of proof is always on the government to prove all elements of a criminal offense. If you have any questions or need to speak with an attorney right away, contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates.