Possession of Stolen Property Can Cost You Big Time

The expansion of Minnesota’s stolen property laws brought new penalties for possession. Now, prosecutors may pursue punishment for those possessing stolen property as stiff as for those who stole the property. Without a Minneapolis criminal defense attorney to mount a strong defense, defendants may be found guilty of possession, even when they had no knowledge of the original crime. The test for determining guilt or innocence in possession cases involves three parts.


In order to prove possession of stolen property, the State must prove the defendant had the property in his or her possession. In some instances, proving this step is easy; the accused had the property on his or her body at the time of arrest. The receipt test becomes more difficult when proving indirect receipt.

Indirect receipt occurs when a defendant has only indirect control over the stolen property. An example of this would be a homeowner who allows their brother to store a stolen motorcycle in the home’s garage. Even though the homeowner didn’t drive the motorcycle or exercise personal possession, they are liable for receipt. The law enters a gray area when the defendant claims her or she had no knowledge of their indirect possession of the stolen property. Using the motorcycle case as an example, if the defendant’s brother stored the motorcycle in the defendant’s shed without the defendant’s knowledge, there may be some grounds for denying receipt. Unfortunately, proving the lack of knowledge or permission for receipt is a difficult task.


The next step for the prosecution is proving the defendant had knowledge that the property was stolen. This is where a Minneapolis criminal defense attorney can mount a strong attack on the prosecution’s case. The State must show beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knew the property was stolen at the time of receipt.

Over time the laws evolved to allow the prosecution more leeway in proving knowledge. Beyond direct knowledge, the State can prove either indirect or circumstantial knowledge. Indirect knowledge may occur if a third party informed the defendant that the property was stolen before the defendant took possession. This could be a friend with information about the crime, a news story, information from the property owner, or any other source of information readily available to the defendant. Circumstantial knowledge is proven when the State can show the defendant should have had a reason to believe the property was stolen. For instance, if the defendant’s brother had a history of motorcycle theft, and brought a new motorcycle to the defendant’s home, the State can claim the defendant should have had a suspicion the motorcycle was stolen.

The knowledge test also involves the use of “stolen property indicators”. The most common indicator is the destruction of a product’s serial number or prior registration of the property by another party. If the State can prove the defendant ignored the warning signs, a Minneapolis criminal defense attorney will have to show the reasons why the defendant was unaware of the signs.

Intent To Deprive

Finally, the State must show that the defendant intended to keep possession of the property. At this stage, a Minneapolis criminal defense attorney can argue the defendant was eager to return the property once it was discovered the property was stolen. For this reason, proving intent is very difficult, and offers a solid foundation for a defense.

The State’s case becomes stronger if the defendant made a move to keep or sell the property after knowing it was stolen. In that case, it is clear the defendant intended to keep or profit from the property. The State can even upgrade the charges to include the sale or attempt to sell stolen goods.


Minnesota uses a tiered system for the punishment of theft related crimes.

  • Property in excess of $35,000 or theft of a firearm: Up to 20 years in prison and/or a $100,000 fine
  • Property in excess of $5000 or the theft of trade secrets, explosives or Schedule I or II controlled substances: Up to 10 years in prison and/or a $20,000 fine
  • Property in excess of $1000 or theft of a Schedule III or IV controlled substance: Up to 5 years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine. Repeated convictions of petty theft can increase the punishment to this level.
  • Property in excess of $500: Up to one year in jail and/or a $3000 fine
  • Property up to $500: Up to 90 days in jail and/or a $1000 fine

The property owner can also pursue punitive damages for possessing the property that include fees of $50 or the full value of the property, whichever is greater.

Minnesota’s property laws protect the rights of property owners and enforce severe penalties for anyone involved in the crime. A Minneapolis criminal defense attorney will be necessary to protect the rights of the accused.

Max Keller has won countless jury trial cases involving misdemeanors and felonies, sex crimes, and DWI’s. He is a member of the Minnesota Society for Criminal Justice, which only allows the top 50 criminal defense attorneys in the state as members. Max is a frequent speaker at CLE’s and is often asked for advice by other defense attorneys across Minnesota.

Years of Experience: Approx. 20 years
Minnesota Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: State of Minnesota Minnesota State Court Minnesota Federal Court 8th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals State of Maryland

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