Possession of Stolen Goods and Receiving Stolen Goods

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?