It is against the law to buy, sell, transport, receive, or possess stolen property, and in some cases, the federal government can investigate and prosecute alleged offenses. The U.S. government has several laws involving stolen property, and if you are under investigation by federal authorities for theft crimes, you need to understand the laws and the potential penalties you could face, so you know what to expect.
You also need to consult an experienced federal criminal defense attorney right away for advice regarding your rights and options and help in preparing your defense.
Federal Stolen Property Laws
Federal laws prohibit anyone from receiving, selling, possessing, concealing, or disposing of any property they know was stolen. Stolen property can include virtually any goods, money, securities, or other valuable items, and the U.S. government can get involved in stolen property cases depending on the value of the property stolen as well as how and where the crime occurred.
Federal statutes include many definitions of stolen property that include:
- Transportation of stolen vehicles, which include motor vehicles, aircraft, and water vessels
- Sale or receipt of stolen vehicles
- Transportation of stolen goods, securities, monies, fraudulent State tax stamps, and articles used in counterfeiting
- Sale or receipt of stolen goods, monies, securities, or fraudulent State tax stamps
- Transportation of livestock
- Sale or receipt of livestock
- Trafficking in counterfeit labels, documentation, or packaging
- Criminal infringement of copyright
- Unauthorized sale, production, recording, or trafficking of sound recordings, music performances, and motion pictures
- Illicit digital transmission services
- Trafficking in counterfeit goods or services
- Trafficking in certain motor vehicles or parts
- Chop shops
Additionally, theft crimes can also fall under federal jurisdiction if certain “exceptional circumstances” exist. These circumstances usually arise in situations where the state feels it may not be able to successfully prosecute the crime and calls on federal authorities for assistance. Some circumstances include:
- The state has difficulty establishing a venue for prosecution.
- The crime is widespread or systematic.
- The crime involves multiple vehicles.
- The crime involves heavy commercial vehicles and equipment.
- The defendant allegedly committed multiple interrelated crimes.
- The defendant is a repeat offender.
In most cases, federal authorities only become involved if the value of the stolen property exceeds $5,000. However, the government can prosecute any theft or property crimes that occur across state lines or international borders, affect interstate or foreign commerce, or involve federal property. For instance, any crime that uses the Internet as a means of conducting fraud or theft can result in federal prosecution. Also, crimes like bank robbery typically include federal involvement, as does stealing property belonging to the U.S. government, even if the property was seized from you.
Furthermore, it is against the law to alter or remove any vehicle identification numbers (VINs) from vehicles or any identifying information of any stolen property.
Investigating and Prosecuting Theft Crimes
Several government agencies investigate alleged theft and property crimes. They include the Office of Enforcement Operations (OEO), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the U.S. Criminal Division's Organized Crime and Gang Sections, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Department of Defense (DOD).
The U.S. Department of Justice prosecutes alleged offenses, and they are typically aggressive in their efforts. Therefore, it is vitally important to work with an experienced federal defense attorney as soon as possible.
In almost every case, prosecutors must show the defendant knew the property was stolen, but they can also prosecute if the defendant should have known the property was stolen based on a “reasonable person standard.” Essentially, this means you should have been suspicious of the theft of the property as any reasonable person would have, but you turned a blind eye to the crime.
Federal Stolen Property Penalties
The penalties for most stolen property crimes are up to 10 years in federal prison, along with hefty fines. However, you can receive up to 15 years for stealing pre-retail medical equipment and transporting it across state lines. Crimes involving stolen livestock carry prison sentences of up to five years and fines.
Along with prison time and fines, you could also have to pay statutory damages. These damages are restitution you will have to pay the victim for any losses they incurred as a result of the crime. The court can increase damages for subsequent violations, and civil actions must be brought within three years of the offense.
Defenses for Federal Stolen Property Charges
A conviction on any type of federal stolen property charge can adversely affect your life and future. You need to examine all your options for defense, and you need to consult an experienced federal defense attorney for help.
As the main element of the crime is that you knew the property was stolen (or should have), you may have a defense if you can show you were not aware the property was stolen. Other defense options include:
- You did not transport the property across state lines or country borders.
- The value of the property did not exceed $5,000.
- You could have been carrying the property for someone else, or someone forced you to commit the crime against your will.
- The property owner gave you consent to take or transport the property.
In any case, prosecutors will have to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to convict you, and your attorney may identify effective defense options after reviewing your case that can place doubt in the jury's mind.
Get Help From an Experienced Federal Defense Attorney
To help you devise the most effective defense, you need an attorney with extensive knowledge of federal stolen property laws who can advise you of your options and fight hard for your rights and future.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento has successfully defended many clients in New Jersey District Court on stolen property charges and other federal offenses.
Call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or fill out our contact form to request a confidential consultation.