Did you know that you can be convicted of theft without actually stealing anything?
Believe it or not, this is true.
But it isn’t as though you’re going about your day, minding your own business, when suddenly, you’re in trouble. What we’re referring to here is the act of receiving stolen property. You may or may not realize that this is a crime—or that you are, in fact, in possession of stolen property.
If you find yourself caught with stolen property, read on to learn what you can do and the help you can receive from a criminal defense attorney in Lafayette, Indiana.
What Is Theft?
To understand why receiving stolen property is a crime, it’s helpful to know the definition of theft.
For this, we look to Indiana code 35-43-4-2, which states that…
“A person who knowingly or intentionally exerts unauthorized control over property of another person, with intent to deprive the other person of any part of its value or use, commits theft…”
So as you can see, you don’t have to shoplift or pickpocket someone to be guilty of theft.
Once again, this law is no arbitrary attempt for the authorities to “stick it to you.” There’s a real, practical reason why the law looks at theft this way.
Eliminating the Middleman
There’s more to the crime of theft than the physical act of taking something that doesn’t belong to you. The theft occurred for a reason—either the property was valuable, or the thief simply wanted the item.
Regardless of where it goes, the original owner is now deprived of its value, whether monetary or personal. From there, the property’s value needs accounted for somehow. If the item is transferred to another person, through sale or gift, the value of the item is transferred with it.
This means, even if you weren’t the one who took it, being in possession of a stolen item is still theft. You are in possession of property whose owner was never paid. So whether you plan to sell it or enjoy it yourself, you’re still doing so unlawfully.
How Indiana Law Values Stolen Property
The Indiana theft statute values stolen property to determine the severity of the crime—and the charge that comes with it.
The statute defines “the value of property” as…
- the fair market value of the property at the time and place the offense was committed; or
- if the fair market value of the property cannot be satisfactorily determined, the cost to replace the property within a reasonable time after the offense was committed.
A price tag or price marking on property displayed or offered for sale constitutes prima facie evidence of the value of the property.
Once the value of the property is determined, the severity of the crime can be determined. And there are other factors that affect the crime’s severity such as threats to public safety like stealing a gun or hospital equipment.
Criminal Theft Charges
There is no petty theft charge in Indiana. Instead, the severity of theft charges ranges from Class A Misdemeanor to Level 6 Felony, depending on the value of the property and any extenuating circumstances.
- Class A Misdemeanor – If the value of the stolen property is under $750, the crime is considered a Class A Misdemeanor.
- Level 6 Felony – If the value of the property is between $750 and $50,000; or the property is a firearm; or the person has a prior conviction for Theft or Criminal Conversion, then it’s a Level 6 Felony.
- Level 5 Felony – If the value of the property is at least $50,000; or if the item is a valuable metal; or if the item relates to transportation safety or public safety or is taken from a health care facility, telecommunications provider, public utility or key facility; and if there’s a substantial risk of bodily injury to a person through its absence.
The punishments for these crimes vary on the severity of the case and include…
What If I Didn’t Know it was Stolen?
There are ways to defend against theft charges as a result of buying stolen property without your knowledge. First of all, the prosecutor will likely build his/her case around the idea that you “should have known” the property was stolen.
When it isn’t clear that you ACTUALLY KNEW it was stolen, that puts the burden of proof on the prosecution to attempt to prove that you “should have known” that the property was stolen.
This could help or hurt your case. The idea is for the prosecution to convince a jury that “a reasonable person” in your shoes would’ve known the property was stolen. So, for incidences like buying something at a pawn shop, you’ll have an easier job proving your innocence. But if the incident involves a purchase from an individual, you’ll need the aid of a skilled attorney to help make the scenario clear, so there’s no ambiguity.
A Stout Defense
When it comes to theft allegations, a swift and stout defense is your best bet of leaving court with your freedom intact. There are so many unknowns when it comes to proving your innocence. Without the right representation, you could be stuck in a “he said/she said” situation where the burden of proof lies on your shoulders.
An experienced criminal defense attorney in Lafayette, Indiana knows the types of strategies prosecutors use in these cases. Contact Coulter Law Office for help with your case of receiving stolen property.