Crimes Involving Theft: Receipt of Stolen Property and Embezzlement

Crimes Involving Theft: Receipt of Stolen Property and EmbezzlementIn most states, the statute that defines the requirements to prove the crime of receipt of stolen property consists of four elements: 1) the receipt of property that 2) was previously stolen, and the property was received by an individual who 3) knew that the property was stolen and 4) intended to permanently deprive the rightful owner.

Receipt of property

For there to be receipt of stolen property, the individual receiving it must acquire it by either taking physical possession of it or exercising control over the property. In some states, the simple act of paying for the property suffices for the elements of control and therefore receipt. However, a conviction also requires knowledge of possession. Imagine that you purchase a jacket at a thrift store and you later find a flash drive loaded with information in an interior pocket. If you learn that the flash drive was stolen, you have not received stolen property, because you knowingly bought the jacket, but not the stolen property that it contained.

“Was previously stolen”

This element provides that the property must have been obtained by theft, fraud, or a similar crime. In other words, it must have been taken from its rightful owner by illicit means.

The individual knew the property was stolen

To successfully prove the crime of receipt of stolen property, the recipient must know that the property was previously stolen. Knowledge is commonly proven by the totality of the circumstances surrounding the receipt of the property. If, for example, an individual receives property as a gift, and has no knowledge that it was previously stolen, there can be no crime of receipt of stolen property. The mere suspicion that the property was stolen does not qualify in most states. Some jurisdictions hold that knowledge is present when an individual knows, or has reason to know, that the property is stolen. On the other hand, other jurisdictions hold that if a reasonable person would suspect that the property was stolen, there is sufficient proof to show the property was stolen.

“With intent to permanently deprive the rightful owner of the property”

Intent is the most important element of the crime of receipt of stolen property. To be guilty, the recipient must not only know that the goods they received were stolen, but also intend to never return the property. Therefore, if you received the goods, knew they were stolen, but you meant to return the property to the rightful owner or turn it in to the police, there is no crime of receipt of stolen property. For example, if you get an iPad for Christmas and you can tell it is stolen because there is a picture of another family on the screen, but you plan to turn the device over to the police, there is no receipt of stolen property.


Embezzlement involves the taking of personal or corporate property by a person to whom that property was entrusted. In the crime of embezzlement, the thief does not enter someone else’s home or put a hand in someone else’s pocket to obtain the property in question. Instead, the thief already has some control over the property. Typically, embezzlement occurs when an employee takes money from an organization, or a person, for which he or she works. Embezzlement can range from taking a handful of money from a cash register to skimming funds from a client’s account; the crime can encompass a series of actions (repeatedly dipping into the till) or a single action. The distinguishing feature of this crime is that the person who commits it occupies a position of trust so that the victim of the theft depends on the thief in some way. Further, the perpetrator acquires the property because of that relationship: if the employee of a small business breaks into the office after hours and ransacks the safe, that action is not embezzlement while transferring funds from one account to another on the business’s books is. The actions must be intentional, not inadvertent. A simple accounting mistake does not count as embezzlement. However, the perpetrator need not keep the money; the money can be transferred to another party.

Related page: Burglary, Larceny, and Robbery

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