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The law in every state allows some latitude when it comes to the crime of selling and buying stolen goods. The one factor that can make the most significance is whether buyer or seller knew that the goods were stolen. Although knowledge makes all the difference, however, not knowing generally will not allow a purchaser, nor seller, to keep the proceeds, nor the goods.
Depending on the jurisdiction and the value of the goods, certain states can charge the offense as a petty crime. Petty crimes, typically, are misdemeanors, or infractions, that do not carry very stringent sentences. Usually, this is reserved for situations where the value of the goods is less than $500 or $1,000, and did not involve an additional crime, such as a weapons, assault or battery charge. If a seller has no knowledge the goods they are selling are stolen, it is likely they would be treated similarly to a buyer who had no knowledge.
When a prosecutor is deciding whether to charge a defendant with a misdemeanor or felony for selling stolen goods, the value of the goods is very significant. In California, for example, if the value is less than $950, then selling stolen goods cannot be charged as a felony. However, if there were other crimes committed in conjunction with the sale of the stolen goods, this could change how a prosecutor decides to charge the case.
Misdemeanor convictions carry a maximum sentence of one year in jail, while felony convictions can carry sentences of several years or more.
Typically, for a felony selling stolen goods charge in California, assuming there are no other crimes, a guilty party could be facing up to one to three years in prison. Under the federal law, selling stolen property across state lines could land you a ten year prison sentence.
Business Types Matter
If you are a private party found to be selling stolen goods, you may have less to be concerned about than if you are a pawn shop owner or swap meet vendor. In most states, these business operators face stricter regulation when it comes to selling goods.
Generally, pawn shop owners and swap meet vendors need to keep track of where and from whom they received the items they sell. Some states require these businesses to conduct a reasonable inquiry into whether the item was legally obtained before they offer the item for sale.