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What happens for a first offence of Handling Stolen Goods?

Facing an accusation of handling stolen goods for the first time can have serious legal ramifications under English law. Handling stolen goods involves the unlawful possession or disposal of stolen property. This article delves into the fundamental aspects of the handling stolen goods offence, the customary legal procedures, possible penalties, and options for seeking legal assistance when confronted with such charges. If you ever find yourself in the unfortunate position of being charged with handling stolen goods as a first-time offender, it is vital that you understand the gravity of the situation and engage the services of a skilled criminal defence solicitor to prepare a thorough defence.

What is the offence of handling stolen goods?

In England, the offence of handling stolen goods is defined under Section 22(1) of the Theft Act 1968. To secure a conviction for handling stolen goods, the prosecution must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • Possession or Control: The defendant must have been in possession of, or exercised control over, the stolen goods. This means they must have physical custody or authority over the stolen property.
  • Knowledge or Belief: The prosecution must establish that the defendant knew or believed the goods were stolen at the time of possessing or controlling them. This knowledge or belief can be either actual (knowing for sure that the goods are stolen) or constructive (having reasonable grounds to believe they are stolen).
  • Dishonest Intent: The defendant must have possessed or controlled the stolen goods with the intent to permanently deprive the true owner of them. In other words, they must have had a dishonest purpose, such as intending to sell, keep, or dispose of the stolen property for their own gain.

In cases of handling stolen goods, the prosecution does not need to prove that the defendant was involved in the original theft or burglary; they only need to establish that the defendant knowingly possessed or controlled stolen property with dishonest intent.

If the prosecution successfully proves these elements, a defendant can be convicted of handling stolen goods in England. Convictions for this offence can result in significant penalties, including imprisonment, fines, or community service, depending on the circumstances of the case and the severity of the offence (as outlined later).

What are some examples of handling stolen goods offences?

Here are some examples of handling stolen goods offences in the UK:

  • A person knowingly possessing a stolen laptop and attempting to sell it online.
  • Someone found with a stolen car in their garage, knowing it was stolen.
  • A pawnshop owner accepting stolen jewellery from a thief and offering it for sale to the public.
  • A person receiving stolen electronics from a friend and storing them at their home.
  • Someone buying goods at a significantly reduced price, suspecting they might be stolen, and then selling them for a profit.
  • A person knowingly storing stolen artworks in their attic, intending to sell them later.
  • Someone purchasing stolen bicycles from a local thief and reselling them to unsuspecting buyers.
  • A warehouse manager accepting and concealing stolen merchandise from a delivery driver.
  • A group of individuals involved in a scheme to distribute stolen electronics through an underground market.
  • A garage owner buying and reselling stolen power tools without making any effort to verify their origins.

What happens if you are accused of handling stolen goods?

If you are accused of handling stolen goods in the UK, several legal proceedings and consequences may follow:

  • Arrest and Police Investigation: Upon receiving a report or evidence of your involvement in handling stolen goods, the police may arrest you for questioning. They will conduct an investigation to gather evidence and build a case against you.
  • Interview with the Police: During the investigation, you will be interviewed by the police. It is always advisable to have legal representation during this interview. Remember, you have the right to remain silent.
  • Charge: If the police believe they have sufficient evidence, you may be formally charged with handling stolen goods. The charge will be brought by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) or other relevant authorities.
  • Court Proceedings: Your case will proceed to court, where you will have the opportunity to enter a plea, either guilty or not guilty. If you plead not guilty, a trial will be scheduled.
  • Trial: If you plead not guilty, at trial, the prosecution will present its evidence and arguments, aiming to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Your defence, along with legal representation, will challenge the evidence and present counter arguments.
  • Verdict: The judge or jury will reach a verdict based on the evidence presented. If you are found guilty, you will be convicted of handling stolen goods.
  • Sentencing: If convicted, the court will impose a sentence. Penalties for handling stolen goods can vary depending on the circumstances but may include fines, community service, probation, or imprisonment. The severity of the penalty will depend on factors such as the value of the stolen goods and your previous criminal record.
  • Appeals: If you disagree with the verdict or the severity of the sentence, you have the right to appeal the decision to a higher court.
  • Criminal Record: A conviction for handling stolen goods will result in a criminal record, which can have long-term consequences, including difficulty finding employment, obtaining visas, or accessing certain services.

You should seek legal advice and experienced representation as soon as you are accused of handling stolen goods to ensure that your rights are protected throughout investigations and proceedings and to build a strong defence against the charges. Each case is unique, and the outcome will depend on the specific circumstances and evidence presented in court.

What is the sentence for handling stolen goods?

The sentencing for handling stolen goods in the UK depends on various factors and follows the official Sentencing Council sentencing guidelines. The severity of the sentence is influenced by elements such as the value of the stolen property, the defendant’s level of involvement, any aggravating or mitigating circumstances, and their previous criminal record. The maximum sentence is 14 years’ custody.

When determining the sentence for handling stolen goods, the judge considers aggravating and mitigating factors.

Aggravating factors are elements that make the offence more serious and may result in a harsher sentence. Examples include:

  • Handling goods with a high value.
  • Repeated or systematic involvement in handling stolen goods.
  • Organised criminal activity (e.g. gang activity) related to handling stolen goods.
  • Use of violence, intimidation, or coercion in connection with the offence.

Mitigating factors, on the other hand, are elements that may reduce the defendant’s culpability and result in a more lenient sentence. Examples include:

  • No previous convictions or a previously good character.
  • Cooperation with the authorities during the investigation.
  • Limited knowledge or involvement in the handling of stolen goods.
  • Restitution or efforts to return the stolen property.

The ultimate sentence given will depend on the individual circumstances of the case, and judges have discretion in what that sentence will be. The goal of the sentencing guidelines is to ensure fairness and proportionality in sentencing while allowing for flexibility to address the unique factors of each case. Penalties for handling stolen goods can include fines, community service, probation, or imprisonment, with the severity of the sentence reflecting the seriousness of the offence and the defendant’s role in it.

Will I go to prison if it is my first time committing the offence of handling stolen goods?

Whether a first-time offender goes to prison for committing handling stolen goods in the UK depends on various factors. While imprisonment is possible, it is not an automatic outcome for any offender, including first-time offenders. The sentencing decision for handling stolen goods is influenced by the specific details of the offence, the value of the stolen property, the defendant’s level of involvement, and the presence of aggravating or mitigating circumstances.

A first-time offender with no previous convictions, who demonstrates genuine remorse and cooperates with the authorities, may be more likely to receive a less severe sentence, such as a fine, community service, or a suspended sentence, rather than immediate imprisonment.

That said, if the handling stolen goods offence involves a significant value of stolen property, organised criminal activity, or other aggravating factors, even a first-time offender may receive a custodial sentence, which could include imprisonment. The severity of the sentence will depend on the individual circumstances of the case and the discretion of the sentencing judge.

Where to get more help

If you or someone you know is accused of handling stolen goods under English law, promptly seek expert legal guidance and representation. Your selection of legal representation can have a substantial influence on the resolution of your case, so choose a seasoned criminal defence solicitor that can offer advice, construct a strong defence strategy, and guarantee the safeguarding of your rights throughout the legal proceedings. For a free and confidential consultation, contact the team at Stuart Miller Solicitors today.


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