As Virginia residents increasingly turn to online platforms to buy and sell goods, the risk of coming across goods that are stolen will only continue to grow.
The Virginia Code actually has several laws about receiving and possessing stolen goods.
In this article, we’ll explore these laws, as well as the legal consequences of accidentally buying stolen goods in Virginia.
Convictions for Stolen Property
To convict someone of buying or possessing stolen property, the prosecution has to prove that the property was:
- Stolen (either by the accused or by someone else).
- Bought and/or concealed with the knowledge that the item was stolen.
- Received with a dishonest intent (you knew it was stolen and had no plans to return it to the owner).
If you’re charged with purchasing stolen goods, your defense will likely rest on disproving one or more of these three elements.
What if I didn’t know it was stolen?
The defense for most people who are charged with possessing stolen property is that they didn’t know the property was stolen.
If the prosecution wants to show that the defendant bought the property knowing it was stolen, they must find evidence to prove their case.
For example, some common pieces of evidence include cases where:
- The defendant bought the item for an amount suspiciously far below the market price.
- They bought other stolen property at the same time, or have bought stolen property in the past.
- The defendant knew before the interaction that the seller was a thief.
- There were still security tags on the item.
- The defendant bought a car that either had no title or was broken in such a way that points to it being stolen (such as a faulty ignition).
What if I didn’t know it was there?
In a similar manner, you must have known that the property was there in the first place for a charge for possessing stolen property to stick.
For example, if you can prove that your friend left a stolen watch or cell phone in your house without your knowledge, a judge might not consider you “in possession” of the stolen property.
In order to charge you with possession of stolen property, the prosecution must prove that you had control over, and full knowledge of, the property.
If you can show that you never actually fully “possessed” the property, you may be able to successfully fight the charges.
This is especially relevant in cases where you are arrested while a passenger in a vehicle that contains stolen property.
Penalties for Possessing Stolen Property
If a judge convicts you of possessing stolen property, there are a few penalties you should expect during your sentencing.
In Virginia, the penalties for buying or possessing stolen property are generally the same as the for stealing it in the first place.
If the value of the item is less than $500, it counts as a petty larceny charge. Virginia punishes petty larceny with a sentence of up to 12 months in jail and a fine of up to $2,500.
If the property is worth more than $500, the charge is usually grand larceny. Grand larceny is punished with a prison sentence of between 12 months and 20 years, as well as a fine of up to $2,500.
Basically, if you had a stolen item in your possession, and you knew that it was stolen, the court will punish you as if you had stolen the item yourself.
This is true even if the actual thief is never found.
Possessing a Stolen Firearm in Virginia
As an exception to the penalties listed above, the Virginia Code has a specific note about the possession of stolen firearms.
According to Virginia Code § 18.2-108, any person who buys or receives a firearm from another person, knowing that it was stolen, is guilty of a Class 6 felony.
This is punishable by a prison sentence of between 12 months and 5 years, and/or a fine of up to $2,500.
Possessing a Stolen Vehicle in Virginia
Similarly, the Virginia Code also adds additional penalties to individuals who purchase a stolen vehicle, aircraft, or boat.
This crime is also punished as a Class 6 felony, with a sentence of between 12 months and 5 years in jail as well as a possible fine of up to $2,500.
However, the judge may decide to instead treat the charge as a Class 1 misdemeanor for sentencing purposes, which means you would only face up to 12 months in jail.
Believe it or not, this crime is actually much more common than you’d first think.
This is because the definition for larceny (on which this code is based) includes language which makes it a crime to deprive someone of the use of their property.
For instance, if a friend gives you permission to borrow their car, you may think that it’s ok to take it again without permission.
However, in this scenario, the friend may report your actions as either unauthorized use of a vehicle or auto theft, depending on what your intent was at the time.
Similarly, if a spouse receives a vehicle, airplane, or boat as part of a separation agreement during a divorce, the other spouse cannot attempt to use or sell that vehicle, or transfer the title to another person.
Doing so could result in vehicular theft charges, especially if they choose to sell this vehicle to a third party.
Possession of Stolen Goods with the Intent to Sell
If you are found guilty of buying stolen goods and intending to sell them, you’ll be charged with two crimes: possession of stolen goods, and intent to distribute stolen goods.
But wait, how does the prosecution know that you intended to sell the goods?
Most commonly, the prosecution will use an advertisement or post with the item for sale as evidence for your intent to sell stolen goods.
For example, a “for sale” post on Craigslist or a similar site could point towards an intent to sell.
Another important thing to note is that stealing more than one item of a certain product is an incredibly strong piece of evidence when proving an intent to sell stolen goods.
“The larceny of more than one item of the same product is prima facie evidence of intent to sell or intent to distribute for sale.”Virginia Code § 18.2-108.01
“Prima facie” evidence, in this context, means that this piece of evidence is often sufficient to prove the intent to sell/distribute charge by itself, with no other evidence required.
Buying Multiple Stolen Products
As one final note, you should remember that buying multiple stolen products of the same type, with the intent to sell, is also a serious crime.
If the item costs more than $500, the crime counts as a Class 5 felony.
This is punishable by a prison sentence of between 12 months and 10 years.
In some situations, a judge may decide to instead punish the crime with a penalty of 12 months in prison and/or a fine of up to $2,500.
More people are buying and selling items on Facebook Marketplace and other similar online marketplaces than ever before.
If you inadvertently buy stolen goods on one of those groups or in real life, you can be charged with possessing and purchasing stolen property.
The penalties for this charge are as severe as if you had committed the larceny yourself.
During your case, the prosecutor must prove two elements.
First, that the goods were stolen, and second, that you bought them or received them knowing that they were stolen.
If you are charged with possession of stolen goods, it’s important that you have a lawyer who understands Virginia law and how it applies to your case.
As a criminal offense, this is a problem that could have long-reaching consequences down the line if you fail to properly prepare for your day in court.