What do you do if you believe you have possession of possibly stolen property?

I know someone who unknowingly purchased a possibly stolen ATV. The ATV was purchased months ago and the “buyer” recently received a phone call from a family member of the “seller” stating that the police were searching for the stolen ATV at the “seller’s” house. What should be the first step for the person who currently has possession of the ATV? He is worried about getting in trouble for receiving stolen property, but in fact he had no idea that the ATV was stolen.

Asked on July 29, 2010 under Criminal Law, Alabama


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

IF the person truly did not know it was stolen, they he should not face any criminal liabilty--for their to be crime, there must also be criminal intent (often called "mens rea"). However, he would have to give the property to the rightful owners--he would have no right to keep it. He would be able to potentially sue the seller of the property, particularly if the seller himself was not innocent, for the cost of the ATV.

Therefore, if this person is innocent of deliberately buying stolen property but now believes its stolen, probably returning it is the best thing to do. Of course, if the owners don't believe him, they may try to sue or press criminal charges--that's why this person should first consult with an attorney, who can advise him on all  the particulars of the case and also possibly represent him if necessary. Note that if he knowingly keeps property he believes to be stolen, then he may be setting himself up for criminal liabilty.

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