How is receiving stolen property a criminal offence?

by Findlaw Australia

Have you ever received property that just so happened to have ‘fallen off the back of a truck’? What about something that was mysteriously ‘found’ by a friend, and then you happened to be the lucky recipient? Furthermore, in both scenarios, you received said property with a wink and a smile? Well, obtaining an item that has ‘fallen off the back of a truck’ might seem harmless, but in actual fact, it may be considered as an offence, and a person found guilty can face prison time. There are many elements which constitute the offence, rather than just the actual receiving of the stolen property. So you can breathe a sigh of relief, and don’t need to be on tenterhooks over every item you obtain from a person.

The offence

If you have received stolen property knowing that the item has been stolen – it’s an offence. No if, buts, or whatevers about it.

Although, if you’re the type of reader who wants more ‘legalese’ in your explanation of what constitutes the offence, we can look to s 433(1) of Queensland’s Criminal Code 1899 for guidance, which states an offence of receiving stolen property is committed when:

“A person who receives tainted property, and has reason to believe it is tainted property, commits a crime.”

In Victoria, receiving stolen property is labelled as ‘handling’, and although the term may differ from the majority of the other States, it does not change the fact that the traditional definition of receiving is still evident in s 88(1) of the Crimes Act 1958 (VIC) which defines ‘handling’ as:

“A person handles stolen goods if knowing or believing them to be stolen goods he dishonestly receives the goods or brings them into Victoria, or dishonestly undertakes or assists in bringing them into Victoria or in their retention, removal, disposal or realization by or for the benefit of another person, or if he arranges to do so.”

When is someone guilty of the offence?

In order to be found guilty of an offence of receiving stolen property, there are two general things that a prosecutor must prove:

  • a person who receives the stolen property must have knowledge at the time of receiving the property, that the property was stolen;
  • a person has possession of the stolen property.

It’s important to highlight the fact, that a person who did not have actual knowledge at the time of receiving the property, that the property was stolen, but later became aware of the fact, is generally not considered guilty of an offence of receiving.

Alternatively, the courts may also infer knowledge by way of the surrounding circumstances when a person came into possession of the property, so beware.

In terms of the element of possession, the general approach in establishing that a person has received stolen property is:

  • the person has some sort of physical possession or control over the stolen property;
  • the property has been stolen not long before it was found in the possession of the accused.

The possession requirement is also based around the surrounding circumstances upon the reception of the stolen property, and it is then up to the courts to decide whether or not a person is guilty of an offence of receiving.


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