examples of these sorts of offences
- Possession of property obtained by crime: It is a criminal offence to possess property that one knows was obtained by the commission of a crime. Most often, this offence is charged when someone is found in the possession of stolen property. Accordingly, this offence is often characterized as “possession of stolen property under $5000” or “possession of stolen property over $5000,” depending on the value of the property.
- Possession of proceeds of crime: Under the Criminal Code, this is technically the same offence as “possession of property obtained by crime.” It is simply an alternate way of committing the same offence. That being said, “possession of proceeds of crime” is usually charged in very specific circumstances: when someone sells controlled substances (i.e. drugs) or stolen property to an undercover police officer. The money paid to the accused is “proceeds of crime.” As a result, it is useful to think of “possession of proceeds of crime” as different from other “possession of property obtained by crime” offences.
- Trafficking in stolen property: It is against the law to sell, give, transfer, export, import, send, deliver or otherwise deal with stolen property. While the act of “trafficking” can take many forms, this offence is most commonly charged when a person sells or transfers stolen property to another person. For example, selling a stolen bicycle to someone would make out of the offence if the seller knew the bicycle was stolen.
It is against the law to possess property that you know was obtained by the commission of another crime. When the other crime is theft, this offence is called “possession of stolen property.” This means it is against the law to possess something that you know was stolen, even if you did not personally steal it.
Can I be charged with possession of stolen property if I didn’t know it was stolen?
Even if you did not actually know that something was stolen, you can be guilty of possession of stolen property if you were “reckless” or “willfully blind” about whether it was stolen.
A person is “reckless” if they “see the risk” that something might be stolen, but “take a chance” by possessing it anyway. A person is “willfully blind” if they have some reason to question whether the property was stolen, but deliberately avoid asking questions that might cause them to find out whether it was stolen – because they do not want to find out whether it was stolen. It is a kind of “deliberate ignorance.”
For example, if you bought a car stereo in a back alley, for a tenth of its usual price, from someone you have never met before, out of the trunk of their car, paying cash, without any explanation from the seller for why it was so cheap – a judge may decide that you were reckless or willfully blind about whether the stereo was stolen. The judge could infer that you at least suspected that the stereo was stolen but decided to buy it anyway.
If, however, you don’t see any risk that property was stolen, and don’t see any need to ask more questions to find out if it was stolen, you have a defence (even if a more reasonable person might have asked more questions). For example, if you bought a stolen car but had no idea that it was stolen, and you did not suspect it might have been stolen, and you did not deliberately avoid asking questions that might cause you to find out, you are not guilty of possession of stolen property.
What defines “possession” when it comes to charges of possession of stolen property?
A person can also be in “possession” of the stolen property in different ways. Possessing something obviously includes personally possessing it: for example, if you have a stolen wallet in your pocket. But possession also includes situations where you have knowledge and control over the stolen property, even if you are not directly in possession of it, and even if it is “not yours.”
For example, if a friend asks to store a TV in your garage, and if you know that the TV is stolen, you could be guilty of possession of stolen property. You know the TV is stolen, you know it is stored in your garage, and you have control over what gets stored in your garage. This is enough for you to “possess” the stolen property, even if the TV was not stored there for your benefit.
What are the potential consequences for possession of stolen property charges?
The consequences for possessing the stolen property are as wide-ranging as the property one might possess! Generally speaking, the consequences are proportional to the value of the property: more valuable property may result in greater consequences.
Can I go to jail for possessing stolen property in Canada?
If you are charged with a property offence, it is important to talk to a lawyer so you understand what you are facing, as well as your options. A knowledgeable lawyer can tell you what types of sentences people usually receive for different kinds of offences, and explain how you may be able to avoid a conviction or criminal record.
For example, if you are a first-time offender with no criminal record, and if you are charged with possessing stolen property that is not particularly valuable and can be returned to the owner, the prosecutor might agree to “divert” the offence outside of the court system through an “alternative measures program”. This could potentially allow you to avoid a criminal record altogether.
At the other end of the scale, if you are charged with possessing very valuable stolen property, or if the property was damaged and cannot be recovered, or if the circumstances of how the property came into your possession are very serious (such as if the property was stolen from your employer), you could be at risk of a lengthy jail sentence.
Besides the sentence imposed by a judge, there are other serious consequences of being found guilty:
- A criminal record can have employment consequences. Many jobs now require a criminal record check, and a conviction for an “offence of dishonesty” can make it very difficult to get some jobs.
- A criminal record can also interfere with your ability to travel. Certain countries, such as the United States, may turn you away if you have been found guilty of one of these offences.
- Courts can order that an offender pay restitution to the victim (i.e., pay back the value of the property that was taken). These restitution orders may follow you for the rest of your life, even if you later declare bankruptcy.
- Members of professional associations, such as medical professionals, teachers, accountants, or real estate agents, can have their professional designations suspended or revoked as a result of a criminal conviction. A conviction can also interfere with career aspirations by making it harder to join one of these professions in the future.
- It may be difficult to get a pardon (now called a “criminal record suspension”) than in the past, as it can now take ten years (or longer) before a person can apply to have their criminal record expunged.
- If you are not a Canadian citizen, a conviction for one of these offences could have serious immigration consequences. A conviction could make it harder to become a citizen or permanent resident, or could even cause you to be deported from Canada.
- The media often takes an interest in certain theft cases, and a conviction may be reported in the news.
The police want to speak with me, should I talk to a lawyer first?
It is not unusual for a police officer to contact someone they suspect might be involved in a crime. The officer might not start the conversation by saying “you’re a suspect, I think you did it, I’m probably going to arrest you, and I’m going to try to make you confess” – even if this is all true. Instead, the first phone call might be much less threatening. An officer could simply say that they want to “sort things out” or “get your side of the story.” Or the officer might say he needs to speak with you to “just to close the file.”
No matter what the circumstances, it is always a good idea to talk to a lawyer before you talk to anyone about these sorts of allegations. Quite often, it is difficult for a prosecutor to prove that someone is legally in “possession” of something, unless they admit things that help “plug the holes” in the case. Even if you do not admit you are guilty, and even if you honestly try to explain why you are innocent, you can accidentally tell investigators things that make it easier to prove your guilt.
Many people worry that consulting with a lawyer will “make them look guilty,” but it is far more important that you get good advice about your situation than worrying about how you “might look.” The potential consequences are too significant for you to take chances when speaking with the police. You have the right to talk to a lawyer, and both innocent and guilty people need legal advice. The fact that you consulted with a lawyer cannot be used to prove your guilt in court.
For more detailed information about why you should call a lawyer, please read our page on “The police want to speak with me…”
How can a lawyer help me?
A lawyer can help you at every stage in the criminal process:
- If you are under investigation, a lawyer can advise you about how to avoid doing things that make it more likely you will be charged, or things that might make it harder to defend the case against you. A proactive approach can often have significant benefits in defending your case.
- If you have already been charged with a crime, a lawyer can help you understand the evidence against you, review the prosecutor’s case, discuss your side of the story, and help you understand how you might be able to fight the charges.
- A lawyer can usually appear in court on your behalf for preliminary appearances, preventing you from missing work or school unnecessarily.
- If you decide to plead guilty, a lawyer can help negotiate with the prosecutor, gather information that helps present you in the best light, explain the circumstances of the incident to the judge, and help get the best possible sentence.
- If you decide to plead not guilty and have a trial, a lawyer can help organize and present your defence, and identify weaknesses in the prosecutor’s case that could help convince a judge or jury that you are not guilty. A lawyer also understands the rules of evidence and other procedural rules, which can often be very complicated – and important – in financial or property trials.
- If you are dissatisfied with the outcome of your case, a lawyer can advise you about whether you might have grounds for an appeal.
- After a case is resolved, a lawyer can advise you about how you may be able to have your fingerprints destroyed, and how you might avoid having record of the allegations appear in certain kinds of background checks.
If you are charged with a crime, it is essential that you find a lawyer who has experience defending people charged with theft offences specifically, so they can give you good advice that’s based on experience and expertise.
The lawyers at Pringle Law have extensive experience advising and representing people facing allegations of theft, fraud, “white collar” offences, property crime, commercial crime, and financial crime. This is one of our largest areas of practice, and all of our lawyers regularly defend these kinds of cases.
Our lawyers pride ourselves on our knowledge of the law and our practical, client-focused advice.
Please contact us to discuss your case. We assist clients throughout Western Canada and would be happy to speak with you, with no obligation and free of charge, to help you understand your situation.