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receiving, propery, conversion, stolen, theft

Theft Conviction Overturned: Mere Possession Rule Abolished

Mere unexplained possession of stolen property, standing alone, can no longer establish a conviction for theft in Indiana. The Indiana Supreme Court has reversed a 40 year old rule that allowed a conviction for theft to be established by mere unexplained possession of stolen property. In this case, the defendant was spotted driving a stolen truck within a few hours after the owner reported it missing. After being stopped by police, the defendant was belligerent and insisted he did not steal the truck. The state charged him with receiving stolen property, a Class D felony.

At trial, evidence was presented that the owner of the truck had not given the defendant permission to take the truck. However, there were a number or empty beer cans and an empty liquor bottle in the bed of the truck. The alcohol did not belong to the owner of the truck, but police officers testified at trial that the defendant did not appear intoxicated and was not driving erratically. A jury convicted the defendant of receiving stolen property, a Class D felony. The Court of Appeals then reversed the conviction finding that the evidence was insufficient to show that the defendant knew that the truck was stolen. The case was then granted transfer to the Indiana Supreme Court to address the anomaly that had the State charged the defendant with theft, instead of receiving stolen property, mere possession would have been sufficient to sustain the conviction.

The Supreme Court affirmed the reversal of the defendant’s conviction. The Court held that the State could only prove that the defendant was in possession of recently stolen property and that fact alone cannot support an inference that the defendant knew the truck was stolen. The Court then ruled that the same evidence could not support a conviction for theft either, abolishing the mere possession rule. This case has established a new rule that to be convicted of theft, possession of stolen property is to be considered along with other evidence in a case, such as how recent or distant in time was the possession from the moment the item was stolen, and what are the circumstances of the possession (such as possession right next door as opposed to many miles away). Even if a defendant’s possession of stolen property is unexplained at trial, a jury cannot find the defendant guilty if after consideration of all of the evidence in the case, there remains a reasonable doubt as to his guilt.

This ruling makes it crucial for persons accused of theft, or receiving stolen property, to maintain their right to remain silent and their right to an attorney. Police are trained in interrogating people under duress and obtaining incriminating statements. If you are under investigation for theft or receiving stolen property, you should contact a criminal attorney immediately. An experienced criminal attorney can help attack the evidence used against you. Mere possession of stolen property alone, can no longer sustain a conviction for theft in Indiana.