Handling Stolen Goods
Under Section 22 of the Theft Act 1968 (the Act 1968), handling stolen goods is a criminal offence triable either way. The court must prove that the goods in question were stolen at the time of handling for the crime to be committed.
What is handling stolen goods?
A person can be found guilty of handling stolen goods if they:
- are aware that the goods are stolen, but still choose to receive them dishonestly, or
- insincerely undertakes or aids in their continued possession, disposal, transferral or realises that it is for the benefit of another, or
- makes plans to do so.
A defendant can be charged for handling stolen goods if they had known, or believed the goods to be stolen, else all theft charges would be classified as handling stolen goods.
Under s24 of the Act 1968, stolen goods are any goods acquired through theft, deception, or blackmail precisely money and all types of property, excluding land. However, s24 of the Act 1968 includes objects that have been removed from the land by theft.
Any goods within a defendant’s possession must remain stolen at the time of handling for the offender to be found guilty of handling stolen goods.
Under s24 of the Act, goods obtained during the proceeds of dealings with the original thief or handler also classifies as an offence for handling stolen goods.
Knowing the goods were stolen
Under Theft Act 1968, the defendant must have perceived or been made aware that the goods were stolen while handling said goods to be charged for the offence. If the offender comes to learn that the goods were stolen after they were in their possession, they will not be guilty of handling stolen goods.
The offender must know that the goods were stolen first-hand, for example, being told by the thief, or if they believe the goods were unlawfully obtained.
When attempting to prove that an offender knew or believed goods to be stolen, suspicion would not be enough to sentence the defendant.
Under s27 of the Act 1968, when attempting to prove the offence of handling stolen goods, the following evidence can be provided:
- proof that the offender has handled stolen goods in the 12 months from the alleged date of the offence; or
- that they were convicted of handling stolen goods during those 12 months.
Evidence outlined under s27 of the Act 1968 would not usually be admissible under the law of evidence. However, a person who has previously committed handling stolen goods may have a greater awareness of what to look for to avoid liability.
For a defendant to be found liable for handling stolen goods, there must be proof that the good have been held dishonestly.
If the goods came into a defendant’s possession, and they were not aware that the goods were stolen, an argument for honesty may be presented. Or if a person receives stolen goods intending to return them to the owner, or law enforcement, they would not be charged with handling stolen goods as the offence was not committed dishonestly.
Deciding whether a defendant acted dishonestly can be a difficult case for the court and during trials courts often take into account the facts a defendant knew at the time of the offence and whether the behaviour appropriated compares by the standards of “ordinary people”.
Sentencing handling stolen goods
Under the Sentencing Council’s guidelines, those found guilty of handling stolen goods could receive a maximum prison sentence of 14 years, depending on culpability and the financial value of the goods.
In less severe cases, the offender may receive a community-based sentence as handling stolen goods is triable either way. According to the Sentencing Council, the punishment for the offence ranges between discharge and 14 years of imprisonment.