How do I get the charge of possession of stolen property dropped?

If you are found to be in possession of stolen property you can face criminal charges, even if you played no hand in the illegal activity to obtain the items. An experienced defence lawyer can work with the Crown to have these charges dropped or diverted from the regular criminal justice process, but success hinges on a number of factors.

It helps if this is your first offence

First-time offenders who are contrite about their actions stand a good chance of having the charges dropped. An absence of a criminal record gives me the leverage to argue that this criminal act was out of character and is not likely to be repeated if you are given a second chance.

Agree to take part in an alternative measures program

The alternative measures program is designed to divert people from the criminal court system while still holding them responsible for their actions. According to information from the Canadian Bar Association, the Crown attorney and police consider a number of factors in determining whether to refer people to this program. They include whether the person has a previous criminal record, the circumstances of the crime, the person’s attitude, as well as the wishes of the victim(s) involved.

You will more likely be eligible for alternative measures if the value of the stolen goods is under $5,000, if there were no weapons or violence involved and if there aren’t too many aggravating factors in the circumstances of the case.

If you are given a referral to the alternative measures program, you must accept responsibility for the criminal charge, though acknowledgment of responsibility is not a formal guilty plea. Once you complete the program, a record of your involvement in the matter will be available to justice officials for two years, with your record expunged if you do not reoffend.

Ask for an absolute or conditional discharge

The court can order that you be discharged of an offence after a finding of guilt and no conviction will be registered. Conditional or absolute discharges are only given for less serious offences, which would include the possession of stolen items under $5,000.

According to information from the Ministry of Justice, the court has the option of imposing a conditional discharge that sets down specific conditions to address your conduct that led to the offence. You must agree to abide by these conditions for a specified period of time. After that the charge is withdrawn. These conditions may include not drinking alcohol or using drugs, not going to specific places or buildings and attending treatment or counselling programs.

In contrast, an absolute discharge has no conditions and the charge is withdrawn immediately with no criminal record. According to s. 730 of the Criminal Code, these discharges are given when the court “considers it to be in the best interests of the accused and not contrary to the public interest.”

Ask for a suspended sentence and probation

The court has the option to delay sentencing and release you on probation for a specified length of time. You remain out of custody but are supervised by a probation officer and must follow any conditions included in the probation order. Normally, a suspended sentence includes a period of probation of one to two years. During that time you will have a criminal record that will show up on all police background checks for employment.

Agree to pay a fine

Upon conviction the court can order you to pay a fine, which is sometimes combined with imprisonment or probation, depending on the crime. If you do not pay the fine, provincial or federal government may refuse to issue, renew, or may suspend licenses or permits until the fine is paid in full. As a last resort, a term of imprisonment may be imposed for defaulting on the payment of a fine.

Penalties for possession of property obtained by crime

If you are convicted of having more than $5,000 of stolen property in your possession and the Crown is treating the charge as an indictable offence, the maximum prison term you can face is 10 years, with lesser penalties given if it is treated as a summary conviction. If you have less than $5,000 of stolen property in your possession, the maximum jail term for charges treated as indictable offences is two years less a day in jail, with lesser penalties given if the charge is treated as a summary conviction.

Passenger in stolen car convicted of being in possession of stolen property

A 2020 judgment from the Court of Appeal for British Columbia sided with a lower court that found a passenger in a stolen vehicle guilty of possession of stolen property. Court documents state that “the central question is whether the officer who arrested the appellant … for possession of a stolen vehicle in which he was a passenger reasonably believed that he unlawfully possessed the vehicle.”

There was also a warrantless arrest and search of the man’s backpack that uncovered “two shotgun shells, a 12-gauge sawed-off shotgun and stolen licence plates,” according to court documents, with the man charged with possession of stolen property with respect to the stolen vehicle and licence plates, as well as several firearms offences with respect to the sawed-off shotgun and shotgun shells.

His defence lawyer argued the man’s right to life, liberty and security of person and his right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure – as guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms – had been violated by the officers, the judgment reads, noting the appeal judge disagreed and upheld all of the possession of stolen property charges. In refuting the man’s arguments that as a passenger in a car he had no control of it, the judge noted “while the driver .. had physical control … its legal possession was shared.”

Crown unsuccessful in ‘wilful blindness’ argument

A man who was found driving a stolen pickup truck was acquitted of being in possession of stolen property, despite being concerned himself “about whether the truck might be stolen property,” according to a 2016 Provincial Court of British Columbia judgment.

Court documents state the truck was valued at approximately $9,000, but that his friend told him that another friend had purchased the truck from his family for $1,500. According to the judgment, that man told police “the day before I was arrested, I knew that there was no way that [he] got this for $1,500, not even a family member. I knew something’s not right with this truck. His story doesn’t add up.”

The plaintiff said didn’t go to police about the possibility that the truck might be stolen because his friend “is a single mother, and he was afraid that he might get her in trouble if, in fact, the truck was stolen. In particular, he feared that child protection officials might intervene if [she] were charged with possession of stolen property.”

The judgment notes “it is well-settled that ‘wilful blindness’ is a sufficiently culpable state of mind to support a conviction for possession of stolen property. However, the judge ruled that the man’s fear of getting the single mother into trouble was “not an unreasonable concern, and a more probable explanation for his conduct than a desire to shield himself from criminal responsibility.”

Car dealer wilfully blind about stolen autos

A 1998 Court of Appeal of Alberta judgment upheld the conviction of a used car dealer who faced 25 charges of being in possession of stolen property after he was found to be wilfully blind as to the origins of the cars he was selling.

According to court documents, the dealer noticed “problems” with several vehicles purchased from another man, including incorrect vehicle identification numbers. The man was also told by the Edmonton Police that one of the cars he had purchased was stolen. The trial judge concluded the car dealer should have realized that “all of the vehicles originating with [the other man] were stolen.”

In rejecting the man’s appeal of the 25 possession of property obtained by crime charges, the judge noted: “The preference to remain ignorant when circumstances demand meaningful inquiry is wilful blindness. In this case, it was open to the learned trial judge to apply that doctrine and imputed knowledge to the Appellant that the vehicles specified in the charges for which he was convicted had been stolen.”

How I can help you

Being in possession of property obtained by crime can include up to a decade of imprisonment if convicted. Don’t take that chance. No matter the circumstances, I will carefully examine the Crown’s evidence and advise you on the best way to defend against the charge. The first consultation, in French or English, is free, with a flat fee for each of the next phases of your case. Contact me so we can start building your case.

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