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Dealing in Stolen Property in Florida: Knowing What You Should Know

The Florida legislature has made it a crime (punishable by up to 15 years) to traffic in, or endeavor to traffic in, property that you know, or should know, is stolen. The key words here are “should know.” The State doesn’t have to prove that you actually did know the property was stolen, only that you should have known.

The common Dealing in Stolen Property case arises when a person pawns property at a local pawn shop. If that property has been reported stolen in a recent (or even distant) burglary, the person that pawned the property is generally arrested for dealing in stolen property, regardless of whether there is any nexus between the burglary and the pawning.

The problem with the prosecution is that there generally is a lack of evidence concerning whether the person that pawned the property knew or should have known that the property was stolen. Most property does not come with a tag that reads “Stolen.” For example, you cannot tell whether a lawn mower is stolen by simply looking at it. Ownership of property can legally change hands with nothing more than a handshake. For example, Mr. Smith certainly can give Mr. Jones his lawn mower to pay off a debt that he owes Mr. Jones. And Mr. Jones can certainly pawn that lawnmower to recover the money that he loaned Mr. Smith.

So how does the State prove that the pawning person knew or should have known that the property was stolen? They generally rely on the time frame between when the property could have been taken and when the property was pawned. The shorter that time frame, the more likely it is that the person that pawned the property knew or should have known that it was stolen. The chink in the armor of this reasoning is that it is based on speculation. The State is speculating about what happened between the theft and the pawning. It is entirely reasonable that the property changed hands several times between the theft and the pawning.

Dealing in Stolen Property cases are often prosecuted with little investigation done by the law enforcement agencies. Once the police determine that property has been taken in a burglary and that the property was later pawned, an arrest is made and the case is turned over to the State Attorney’s Office for prosecution.