If you buy property that turns out to be stolen, you may find yourself charged with receiving stolen property. In Nevada, buying or receiving stolen property is a crime that ranges in seriousness from a misdemeanor to a category B felony, depending upon the value of the stolen property received. Below, review the definition and elements, the potential penalties, and common defenses for this crime.
NRS 205.275 defines the crime of receiving or buying stolen property. According to this statute, it is a crime to buy, receive, or possess stolen property for personal gain. It is also a crime to withhold property to prevent the original owner from again possessing his property.
A person can only be convicted of receiving stolen property if he knows or reasonably should know that the property is stolen. In other words, a person is guilty of this offense if he has actual knowledge that the property is stolen or if he receives the property under circumstances which would cause a reasonable person to know the property was stolen.
By statute, possession of three or more of the same or similar items with removed serial numbers is "is prima facie evidence" that a person has knowingly received stolen property. This means that possession of three or more items with destroyed serial numbers is enough for a conviction, although the jury or judge may still acquit if there is reasonable doubt.
There are many other facts which may be relevant in determining whether the accused should have known the property in question was stolen. For instance, if the defendant bought the property for far less than market value, that might indicate that the buyer should have known the property was stolen.
Here is an example to illustrate how certain facts may indicate that a person should know property is stolen. You compliment an acquaintance on a Rolex watch he is wearing. He offers to sell you the watch for a few hundred dollars and you accept. The fair market value of the watch is several thousand dollars. The watch has an engraving on the back with a name of a person other than your acquaintance. You sell the watch to a pawn shop. It turns out the watch is stolen, and you find yourself charged with receiving stolen property. Although you had no actual knowledge that the watch was stolen, the prosecutor will likely argue that the circumstances under which you bought the watch indicate that you should have known it was stolen. In particular, the prosecution will argue that you should have known the watch was stolen based on the seller's below-market-value asking price and the engraving. Of course, there are responses to these arguments and ways to defend a charge like this.
The potential penalty for receiving stolen property varies from a misdemeanor to a category B felony, depending upon the value of the stolen property. Specifically, if the value of the property is less than $650, the crime is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 6 months in county jail and/or a $1,000 fine. If the value of the property is $650 or more but less than $3,500, the crime is a category C felony punishable by 1 to 5 years in Nevada state prison and a fine of up to $10,000. Finally, if the value of the property is $3,500 or more, the crime is a category B felony punishable by 1 to 10 years in Nevada state prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
How is the value of the property established for the purpose of determining whether this crime is a misdemeanor or a felony? According to NRS 205.275(6), the value of the property is "the highest value attributable to the property by any reasonable standard." In other words, under Nevada law, the prosecutor is allowed to seek the highest possible punishment by attributing the highest value possible to the stolen property, so long as the valuation is arguably "reasonable."
In addition to incarceration and fines, restitution is mandatory for a conviction of for receiving stolen property. Restitution means that the person convicted of this crime will be ordered to repay the original owner for the value of the property lost. If the property is recovered, restitution will consist of any damage (i.e. loss in value) to the property, if any.
As explained above, receiving stolen property is a serious offense, and a conviction can result in substantial criminal penalties, including incarceration. Since the prosecutor must prove all elements of the charged crimes beyond a reasonable doubt, a successful defense will attack one or more of the elements of the crime. This can include an argument that the accused did not know and did not have any reason to know that the property was stolen. Another potential defense argument is that the accused did not actually possess the alleged stolen property. A defense attorney may also argue that the police committed certain constitutional violations while investigating the alleged crime, and that any potential evidence should be suppressed.
Even when the prosecution has substantial evidence of guilt, a criminal defense attorney will often be able to negotiate a favorable deal and avoid fines and incarceration.
I have successfully represented many individuals accused of buying and receiving stolen property in Las Vegas and throughout Clark County, Nevada. So if you have been charged with this or any other crime, call me immediately for a free consultation.
By Michael Pandullo