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Receiving Stolen Goods

The law generally penalizes an accessory to a crime only if he conspired or aided in its commission or if, after the commission, he harbors or conceals the offender, that is, obstructs law enforcement. The objective encouragement that a "fence," of professional receiver, gives to theft does not amount to conspiring or aiding in the theft, although a receiver can easily cross the line and become a conspirator, for example, by entering into a continuing relationship with the thief, promising to buy regularly, or suggesting what would be best stolen and where. Merely buying the loot does not amount to harboring the thief. These limits of accessorial liability gave rise to special legislation penalizing those who buy stolen goods or otherwise aid the thief in disposing of them.

In principle, the receiving, like other theft offenses, should be confined to situations where the offender knows he is dealing with property that does not belong to the person bringing it to him. The difficulty of proving such knowledge led to broadening the statutes to cover recklessness or negligence with respect to true ownership. Sometimes the statutes created a presumption of knowledge where the receiver bought at far less than the market value of the goods, although such a presumption appears to contradict the constitutional requirement that conviction of infamous crime be based of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. An alternative approach to the problem of the professional receiver is to license and regulate pawnshops, junk dealers, and secondhand stores. The regulations may require the dealer to keep record of the identity of the sellers, to report certain purchases to the police, to submit to police inspections, and the like. Violations lead to suspension or revocation of license and of the right to do business, or to misdemeanor penalties for breach of regulations.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawTheft - Introduction, Larceny, Embezzlement, False Pretenses And Fraud, Receiving Stolen Goods, Grading Of Theft Offenses