Possession of Stolen Goods and Receiving Stolen Goods

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I’m working on revising Arrest Warrant and Indictment Forms, a manual that provides charging language for several hundred common offenses. In the course of working on language for possession of stolen goods and receiving stolen goods, I noticed a couple of things that might be of interest.

First, there are two statutes that criminalize each offense. The principal larceny statute, G.S. 14-72, also criminalizes possession of stolen goods and receiving stolen goods, but there are also stand-alone statutes prohibiting receiving stolen goods, see G.S. 14-71, and possession of stolen goods, see G.S. 14-71.1. That’s an odd state of affairs, but the statutes appear to be consistent with one another, so it’s not problematic. If anyone knows why G.S. 14-71 and G.S. 14-71.1 were enacted, please post a comment or send me an email.

Second, the knowledge requirements for the offenses have an interesting wrinkle. Larceny is a felony in the circumstances set forth in G.S. 14-72(b) – when it is from the person, pursuant to a breaking or entering, and so on. Possession of stolen goods and receiving stolen goods are likewise felonies if the goods were stolen under one of those circumstances, but only if the defendant “kn[ew] or ha[d] reasonable grounds to believe” that the goods were ┬ástolen in that manner. G.S. 14-72(c). See also State v. Southards, 189 N.C. App. 152 (2008); N.C.P.I. – Crim. 216.45. So suppose that A pickpocket’s B’s cell phone, then gives the phone to C. If A tells C that A the phone is stolen, but not that A stole the phone from the person of B, C is guilty only of a misdemeanor.

Compare that to the other common circumstance in which larceny is a felony, which is when the value of the stolen items exceeds $1,000. G.S. 14-72(a). In that case, possession of stolen goods and receiving stolen goods are felonies regardless of whether the defendant knew of the factor that elevated the larceny to a felony, i.e., the value of the stolen items. G.S. 14-72(a); State v. Brown, 85 N.C. App. 583 (1987); N.C.P.I. – Crim. 216.40. So in the example above, if the cell phone happens to be a limited edition model signed by Paris Hilton and worth $5,000, C is guilty of a felony even if C fails to recognize the value of the phone.

As an aside relevant to this point, it looks to me as though N.C.P.I. – Crim. 216.41 and 216.49C, the pattern instructions for receiving and possessing goods stolen from a construction site, are incorrect. The statute requires that the defendant know, or have reasonable grounds to believe, that the goods were stolen from a construction site, see G.S. 14-72.6, while the pattern instruction omits that requirement.

Third – and most relevant to my writing project – it appears that the state must allege in the indictment or information the factor that elevates the possession or receiving offense to felony status. That’s the rule for larceny charges under State v. Wilson, 315 N.C. 157 (1985) (“An indictment charging felonious larceny must allege facts sufficient to raise the charge to the level of a felony.”). I couldn’t find a case directly on point with respect to possession and receiving – let me know if I’m missing one – but State v. Babb, 34 N.C. App. 336 (1977), holds that when goods are stolen pursuant to a felony other than felony larceny, an indictment for receiving stolen goods must allege that felony. It arguably follows that when goods are stolen pursuant to felony larceny, an indictment for possessing or receiving stolen goods must allege the specific variety of felony larceny at issue. But cf. State v. Harper, 51 N.C. App. 493 (1981) (offering the following intriguing comment without describing the indictment at issue: “Defendant was charged with feloniously possessing stolen property in violation of G.S. 14-71.1. The indictment could have supported proof either that defendant knew or had reason to know that the property was feloniously stolen pursuant to a breaking and entering, or otherwise by means described in G.S. 14-72(b), or that the property stolen was of a value in excess of $400.”). Anyone care to argue otherwise?

11 comments on “Possession of Stolen Goods and Receiving Stolen Goods

  1. If I steal your worn out, broken down, flea bitten mule I know it’s a Class H felony (says so in 14-81). But if I give said mule to my no good cousin to hide, telling him of course that I stole it from you (he don’t care for you much anyway), can he be charged with felony receiving stolen property?

    Just wondering.

    • That’s a really good question. Assume that my beloved but moribund mule Bessie is worth less than $1,000. A preliminary issue is whether larceny of Bessie is really a felony. As you point out, 14-81 says it is, but 14-72 says that larceny of goods worth less than $1,000 and not in the circumstances described in G.S. 14-72(b) — which incorporates several statutes by reference, but not G.S. 14-81 — is a misdemeanor. I couldn’t quickly find a case reconciling these two provisions, but my guess is that G.S. 14-81 “wins,” and the crime is a felony, under the rule of statutory construction that specific provisions trump general ones.

      I’m less confident about whether your deadbeat cousin can be convicted of a felony. The argument that he can is that G.S. 14-71 (receiving) and G.S. 14-71.1 (possession) require only that he know, or have reasonable grounds to believe, that poor Bessie was “feloniously stolen or taken.” As discussed above, she was. But the argument that he can’t is that G.S. 14-72(a) says that receiving or possession of stolen goods worth less than $1,000 and not taken in the circumstances described in G.S. 14-72(b) is a misdemeanor. Neither of those provisions is more specific than the other, and no other rule of statutory construction leaps to mind that conclusively resolves the issue, either. Anyone else have an opinion?

      Thanks for pointing out this difference in the reach of G.S. 14-71 and G.S. 14-71.1 on the one hand, and G.S. 14-72 on the other.

  2. I have a somewhat-related request. Since you said you were revising the language in the warrant book, could you please break most of that language up into separate sentences? It drives me nuts to see how convoluted charging language can be. Prime example of this is the Failure to Comply with the Sex Offender Registration law.

    Of course, it would help if the legislature would write the laws clearly to begin with and lay out what the crime is element by element, but I digress…

  3. If someone (minor,who is already on probation) receives stolen goods worth over 400.00 and dosen’t know it is stolen, and sells it for his friend who did steal items from his mother. could minor(who is already on probation) be in big trouble.

  4. If a person removes information from a secure area and gives it to state police saying it was found in a non secure area, then the Sheriff of that county takes the item from that State Police office and no chain of evidance report is done can the said Shariff be charged with possission of stolen items?

  5. I had a court case in which i almost bought two stolen shotguns. I didn’t know they were stolen until told so by police. Once informed, i provided both shotguns. Due to one of the thieves being my then-potential roommate, i had agreed to hold on to them for a few days to make my decision; wasn’t exactly wanting to fork over five hundred bucks : P
    I was originally charged with two felony counts of possession stolen firearms and one count of felony accessory after the fact. After five months in court, all three felonies were dropped to one count misdemeanor possession stolen property. The arresting officer told the judge, in open court, that they couldn’t prove any knowledge, on my part, of the guns being stolen. My question is what class of misdemeanor that would be. I sincerely want to become a detention officer and perhaps further pursue a career in law enforcement. In closing, this court case ended over two years ago.

  6. If a person is in a store with another person who states that they had found a credit card and has the intent to use it decides to go sit in the car outside of the store to seperate themselves from the intent action liable for what the person in store does? Later on the police goes to the person’s house and retrieves the property that was purchased with the found credit card and arrests them and arrest you too because you were seen in the store with them and later you were at the person’s property where the stolen goods were. Can the police charge you with receipt of stolen property of $200?

    Wouldn’t they have to prove that you knew and had the intent even though you did not receive anything from the purchases made?

  7. I was charged with obtaining property by false pretense and its a felony,and possession of stolen good and they said it was $5,000+ but the possession of stolen goods is a misdemeanor!! And in Nc anything over 1,000 is a felony how is that?and can I do anything about it??

  8. My friend was recently caught at school with a kindle fire that a boy lets her use everyday to access the web, when she was caught come to find out that kindle had been stolen before Christmas what kind of punishment is she looking forward to, she had no clue it was stolen and is under age

  9. I bought a car from a dealer and made a part payment. He gave me a photo copy of the papers and kept the originals pending when the balance is made. Soon, another man (a police officer) appeared and claimed he owns the car, presenting the same original Papers that I was shown before purchasing the car. He confiscated the car from me. Do I have a case here? The man I bought the car from refuses to show up, and is even avaoiding my calls. What do you advise?

  10. I would like to know what the difference between G.S. 14-72(a) and G.S. 14-72.1. How can someone who steals property at a value of $8.88 while being caught still in the store receive a citation for G.S. 14-72(a). G.S. 14-72(a) states that the value is more than $1,000, while G.S. 14-72.1 states that it is “concealment of merchandise”. The person did not leave the store and the value was $8.88 and was written on the citation as such. The citation also states the charge as G.S. 14-72(a) however. Would that fact that the item was removed from the packaging constitute the change of G.S. 14-72(a) to G.S. 14-72.1, even though the value was less than $1,000 AND the person was apprehended while still in the store? Enlighten me.

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