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Stolen Property

Maybe this page should be titled “How Pawning Your Friend’s Stuff Could Be a Prison Sentence”, because 90% of all Dealing in Stolen Property cases arise in this fashion. (sometimes, this crime is called “trafficking in stolen property”) For the most part, dealing in stolen property is a pawn shop crime. Its one of those crimes that falls disproportionately on poor people, as wealthy folks can simply borrow money from the bank. Pawn shops are the poor man’s bank.

Here’s some stats on this crime: Dealing in Stolen Property is a Second Degree (F2) felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine–and–it does not matter how much the property was worth. If you pawn a stolen $5 gold ring, it’s the same F2 felony as pawning a stolen $50,000 diamond ring.

The timing of the pawning of stolen goods weighs heavily in determining whether or not an arrest is made for Dealing in Stolen Property. As a general rule, if the property is pawned shortly after it was stolen, charges are coming (so be sure to call criminal defense attorney John Guidry immediately). However, timing isn’t everything. Another key factor involves a defendant’s explanation of his possessing the stolen property.

How to Dismiss a Dealing in Stolen Property Charge

Most police officers hope a suspect will attempt to “explain his way out of it” without consulting an attorney first. Unfortunately, if the explaining is done without an attorney present–anything you say can and will be misquoted and then the misquote will be used against you. The good news is, a dealing in stolen property charge can be defended with a good explanation. Here’s how this works.

First, the defense must explain why he was possessing the stolen goods. The court then decides whether or not the defendant’s explanation of possession is “patently reasonable.” If the possession of recently stolen goods is “patently reasonable”, the court can dismiss charges. An example of this can be found in Bertone v. State of Florida, 870 So. 2d 923 (4th DCA 2004). In this case, the victim had two saws stolen from him, and Bertone pawned those two saws on the same day they were stolen. Bertone explained that he saw his friend’s car broken down, and the friend had no money–but he did have the two saws which he asked Bertone to pawn. Bertone did so, and gave the money to his friend. Two days later, he got the items back out of pawn. The court held that this explanation was reasonable, and the case should have been dismissed.

As mentioned above, most dealing in stolen property cases arise out of the pawning of stolen goods. A dealing in stolen property case was overturned in Valdez v. State, again, based upon the circumstances surrounding the pawning of the items. 492 So. 2d 750 (Fla. 3d DCA 1986) Valdez was accused of stealing a bicycle and expensive diving equipment, including a wetsuit, fishing rods and reels, masks, and more. Valdez only pawned a few of the stolen items for $50, using his real name and address, and explained to the pawnbroker that he found the diving equipment in a trash can near the pawnshop. The appellate court overturned his convictions, finding that his explanation was reasonable given three factors: (1) “not all of the stolen items had been pawned; that only those items which were of less value had been pawned”, (2) “Valdez had given the pawnbroker his real name”, and (3) his explanation was reasonable. Id. at 752. For a nice discussion of this case, check out my article “It’s a Crime to be Poor“.

Possession of Stolen Property Is Not Covered Under the Crime of Dealing in Stolen Property

But, what happens when a person who is merely caught with stolen merchandise somehow ends up being charged with dealing in stolen property? Clearly, the citizen that simply uses stolen merchandise for his own personal gain–and never sells it–should not be convicted under this statute. Our Florida Supreme Court addressed just such an issue in State v. Camp, 596 So.2d 1055 (Fla. 1992). The Court reasoned that the dealing in stolen property statute, 812.019, must “be construed in light of its purpose to achieve its remedial goals”, which is to “punish those who knowingly deal in property stolen by others”. id. The Court’s analysis further indicated that “the basic scenario envisions a person who steals and then sells the property to a middleman (the ‘fence’) who in turn resells the property to a third person…Thus this statute was not designed to punish persons who steal for personal use. Rather, it was used to dismantle the criminal network of thieves and fences who knowingly redistribute stolen property.” id. As a side note, this is why you cannot be found guilty of both grand theft and dealing in stolen property–grand theft is already incorporated into the dealing in stolen property statute.

Receiving Stolen Property Is Not Covered Under the Crime of Dealing in Stolen Property

A similar analysis applies to an individual that receives stolen property, and yet is charged with dealing in stolen property. Receiving stolen property is not a crime which can be charged as a “dealing in stolen property”. By definition, “dealing” or “trafficking” in stolen property means to “sell, transfer, distribute, dispense, or otherwise dispose of property”, or to receive property “with the intent to sell, transfer, distribute or otherwise dispose of such property”. Florida Statute 812.012(7). In the case of Lancaster v. State, 369 So.2d 687 (Fla. 1st DCA 1979), Lancaster was charged with dealing in stolen property under Section 812.019, Florida Statutes. Lancaster purchased and received an engine that he knew (or should have known) was stolen. He installed the engine in his van, and when this was discovered, he was arrested for dealing in stolen property. The conviction was overturned, with the appeals court finding that there was never any evidence presented that Lancaster intended to sell, transfer, distribute, dispense, or otherwise dispose of the property. Once again, simply “receiving” stolen property does not qualify as “dealing” or “trafficking” in stolen property.

How Dealing in Stolen Property Relates to Grand Theft

If you find yourself charged with dealing in stolen property, chances are, you’ve got yourself the bonus charge of grand theft. The fact is, the state is entitled to charge both crimes, but a defendant may not be convicted of both, as this would constitute double jeopardy (I’ll spare you the details on why that is). A conviction for both dealing and grand theft is also prohibited by statute. Section 812.025 of the Florida Statutes (2012) provides that: “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a single indictment or information may, under proper circumstances, charge theft and sealing in stolen property in connection with one scheme or course of conduct in separate counts that may be consolidated for trial, but the trier of fact may return a guilty verdict on one or the other, but not both, of the counts.”

Some prosecutors have attempted to get around this rule, by charging some items in the dealing in stolen property charge, and then other items in the grand theft count. This scheme will not work, but nice try. Even if different items are charged, the issue is whether or not the items were stolen in connection with one scheme or course of conduct. In Jones v. State, the court noted that “notwithstanding the state’s attempt to circumvent the statute’s prohibition by limiting the grand theft count to the stolen car and limiting the dealing in stolen property to the stereo component system. . . Since the theft of the car and the stereo and the sale of the stereo two days later were all a portion of the same scheme or course of conduct . . . the convictions and sentences for both . . . cannot stand.” 453 So. 2d 1192, 1194 (Fla. 3d DCA 1984).

There’s all sorts of cases out there pertaining to dealing in stolen property issues, so rest assured that criminal defense attorney John Guidry will help you thru all this. Go ahead and call today to discuss your options. Thanks.

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