Everyone knows you can be arrested, and subsequently prosecuted, for taking something that doesn’t belong to you. But what about receivingsomething that doesn’t belong to you?

What Does This Mean?

Yep, you can be arrested for that, too. Welcome to the world of theft by receiving. Under Georgia law, you can be arrested for “receiving, disposing of, or retaining stolen property”. Sounds straight forward, right? But here’s the catch: the State has to prove that you (the accused) knewor should have known the property was stolen and that you did not intend to give the property back to its rightful owner.

Confusing?
Let me explain using two hypothetical scenarios.

iPhone Gift

Your significant other gives you a present for your 3 month anniversary. Inside the wrapped package is the iPhone you’ve dropped not-so-subtle hints about wanting for your anniversary. Although grateful for the gesture, you’re a bit confused about why the iPhone isn’t in Apple factory packaging. Your significant other assures you they took it out of the box so it would fit in the gift box they wrapped for you.

A few weeks later your significant other is taken into custody on multiple theft by taking warrants. Turns out they’ve been involved in an iPhone theft ring the entire time you’ve been dating. The State then executes a theft by receiving warrant for your arrest because you have one of the stolen iPhones.

At trial,the prosecutor seeks to present evidence that you knew or should have known the iPhone was stolen. Pursuant to case law, they point to “circumstance[(s) that]would excite suspicion in the mind of an ordinary person.”[1]They’ll point out to the jury that the iPhone was not in factory packaging when you received it and, after all, how could you not have known your significant other was involved in a theft ring?

What’s My Defense?

As your attorney my primary defense on your behalf would be that you simply did not know the iPhone was stolen.Moreover, the circumstances do not indicate that you should have known the iPhone was stolen. You assumed they purchased the phone with their own money because your significant other is gainfully employed. They also explained away the iPhone not being in factory packaging as a consequence of fitting in the gift box. Most importantly, you have only been dating for three months, so you ultimately did not know them well enough to discover their criminal activity.

Used Car Purchase

After being found not guilty of theft by receiving the iPhone you decide to treat yourself by purchasing a car. You’re on a budget, so you’re looking for a well-maintained used car. After browsing listings on Autotrader, you decide to check one out in person. The car is perfect: low mileage, clean, even has that new car smell. The only weird thing is that the car is missing a VIN. But you found the car on Autotrader and it’s at a dealership, so you conclude it must be legitimate. Besides, you reallywant this car.

Shoving your suspicions aside, you decide to buy the car. Soon after rolling it off the lot you spy a police car in your rear-view mirror. Its blue lights activate within seconds. You pull off to the shoulder, totally confused as to why you’re being stopped.The police officer approaches your rolled-down window and asks if you’re aware the vehicle you’re driving has been reported stolen. You tell him you had no idea, but he takes you in to custody anyway on a theft by receiving warrant.

Telling the jury you didn’t know the car was stolen is not a convincing defense this time around. The jury finds you guilty on the basis you should have known the car was stolen because the car didn’t have a VIN when you purchased it. Here, knowledge of stolen property is inferred by circumstances that “excite suspicion in the mind of an ordinary person”.[2]

Don’t Take It!

Moral of the story: do not buy or keep anything you think could have been stolen because,even if you did not steal it yourself, you could be arrested for merely possessing stolen property.

If you or someone you know has been charged with theft by receiving contact our office today for a free consultation. We can help you fight your charges.

by Sarah Armstrong 


[1] Thomas v. State, 270 Ga.App. 181, 606
S.E.2d 275 (2004).

[2] Id.