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Thieving and Receiving: Overcriminalizing the Possession of Stolen Property


Stuart P. Green


Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey - School of Law-Newark

June 10, 2010

New Criminal Law Review, Forthcoming
Rutgers School of Law-Newark Research Paper No. 071

Abstract:     
Historically, Anglo-American law has treated the offense of receiving stolen property in a variety of ways: It has regarded it as no crime at all, subjected it to accessory-after-the-fact liability, and treated it as a free-standing offense, subject, depending on the jurisdiction, to less punishment than theft, the same punishment as theft, or greater punishment than theft. In order to develop an analytical framework for determining which of these various approaches makes the most sense, we need to ask exactly what receiving statutes are meant to censure and deter. From a backward-looking perspective, receivers can be said to perpetuate the wrongful deprivation of the victim owner’s property rights, effected in the first instance by the thief. From a forward-looking perspective, the act of receiving can, at least in some cases, be said to encourage the commission of future thefts by helping to create a ready market for stolen goods. The problem is that the offense in its current statutory formulation reflects only the backward-looking perspective, requiring nothing more than that the offender possess or receive stolen property (knowing that it is stolen), and saying nothing about the future effects of his act. And because perpetuating an owner’s loss of property is a lesser wrong than causing him to lose his property to begin with (or so it will be argued), the receiver deserves less blame and punishment than the thief. Yet many modern statutes subject receiving to at least as much punishment as thieving. In order to avoid such disproportionality, various reforms in the law of receiving are recommended.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 31

Keywords: theft, receiving stolen property, handling, possession, overcriminalization, complicity, recidivism, contraband, Model Penal Code, English Theft Act

JEL Classification: K14

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Date posted: June 13, 2010 ; Last revised: August 24, 2010

Suggested Citation

Green, Stuart P., Thieving and Receiving: Overcriminalizing the Possession of Stolen Property (June 10, 2010). New Criminal Law Review, Forthcoming ; Rutgers School of Law-Newark Research Paper No. 071. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1623755

Contact Information

Stuart P. Green (Contact Author)
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey - School of Law-Newark ( email )
123 Washington Street
Newark, NJ 07102
United States
973-353-3006 (Phone)
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