In the recent appellate decision of Commonwealth v. Hernandez, a defendant appealed from a conviction for receiving stolen property. The case arose when the defendant was riding a bicycle down the street, pulling another bicycle along with him. The police stopped him and asked what he was doing. The defendant offered two explanations for having a second bicycle. He also consented to the officers searching the duffel bag he wore on his back.
The duffel bag contained a package of Proactiv with a label addressed to Thomas Shepard. The defendant claimed he found the bike and the box nearby, and he offered to return them both. The officers arrested him on the grounds that he gave conflicting accounts of the objects and was carrying something that was addressed to someone else.
At a bench trial, the owner of the Proactiv, Thomas Shepard, testified that he hadn’t changed the address on his Proactiv shipments when he moved and hadn’t realized he was missing a package until the prosecutor contacted him. The defendant moved for a required finding of not guilty when the state closed its case, but his motion was denied. He was convicted.
The defendant appealed the denial of a motion for a required finding of not guilty. He argued that the Proactiv had been abandoned, not stolen. The elements of the crime of receiving stolen property are that the property was stolen, the defendant knew that it was stolen, and the defendant knowingly possessed the stolen property. The appellate court explained that the judge reasonably could have found the Proactiv was stolen. It explained that the legal dictionary definition of stolen property is property that has been acquired by larceny, robbery, or theft. Abandoned property is that which an owner voluntarily relinquishes, disclaims, or surrenders.
The owner of the Proactiv had testified he didn’t know that he was missing the Proactiv until the prosecutor contacted him. He couldn’t voluntarily let go of the property if he didn’t know it existed. He had also testified that nobody else was authorized to receive the package. It had been left in an area that the general public wasn’t permitted to access. Therefore, it was rational for the judge to infer the package was taken without his consent, even if the Commonwealth couldn’t explain exactly how the defendant had gotten the property from inside a locked area.
The Commonwealth doesn’t need to establish a chain of possessions between a thief and a defendant to obtain a conviction. Instead, a judge or jury is allowed to infer unlawful possession if the defendant’s possession of the property is peculiar and happens in a suspicious context.
The appellate court explained that the context of the defendant being stopped at 2:00 A.M. with two bicycles and offering to return both the bike and the package was suspicious and that the judge could reasonably conclude that these were stolen. Moreover, the Proactiv had been delivered to the location where it was held two days before. The judge wasn’t required to believe the defendant’s testimony that he didn’t know that the Proactiv was stolen, given the circumstances of the defendant’s arrest. The judgment was affirmed.
If you are arrested for a theft crime in Massachusetts, contact the Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy today to discuss the criminal charges. Call us at 617-367-0450 or contact us through this website.
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