Requirement in Proving Receiving Stolen Property Cases

John L. Calcagni III
Requirement in Proving Receiving Stolen Property Cases

In criminal law, knowledge is an important legal element required to prove that someone has knowingly received stolen property.   In order order to be found guilty of the crime, receiving stolen property, the following legal elements must be established beyond a reasonable doubt: 

  • (1) that the defendant bought, received, or aided in the concealment of stolen property and
  • (2) that the defendant had knowledge the property was stolen.  Commonwealth v. Germaini, 102 Mass. App. Ct. 1101 (2022)

Proving knowledge in criminal cases is challenging for prosecutors.  This is because proving intangible things such as thoughts, ideas, and/or motives is difficult, as we cannot see or examine the inner workings of the human mind.   

As a result, prosecutors are permitted to prove knowledge with both direct and circumstantial evidence. The best direct evidence of knowledge consists of statements by the defendant that he knew the property in question was stolen, or the testimony of the seller who informed the defendant the property was stolen before he sold it.  Direct evidence, however, is often unavailable.  

Direct and circumstantial evidence

Prosecutors more often seek to prove knowledge with circumstantial evidence.   Examples may include an altered or defaced serial number of the property at issue, a sale price for the property that falls considerably below its fair market value, efforts to conceal the property during the sale process, and more. 

In a court of law, direct and circumstantial evidence hold the same evidentiary value, and both may equally be relied upon to reach guilty verdicts for a charged offense.

If found guilty after a trial of receiving stolen property

If found guilty after trial of receiving stolen property, an appeals court may review the trial evidence to determine whether a jury could have found the elements of the crime, to include knowledge, beyond a reasonable doubt.  

If the appeals judge finds that there was insufficient evidence at the trial that the defendant knew the property received was stolen, then the defendant’s guilty verdict may be overturned. 

If you have questions or concerns about the element of knowledge of Receiving Stolen Property cases, contact the Law Office of John L. Calcagni III, Inc. for a free consultation at (401) 351-5100.