One of the most common theft crime charges in Ottawa is possession of stolen property.
This entails having property in your possession that was knowingly obtained through criminal activity.
You don’t need to have stolen anything to be charged with this offense. Charges may be wrongfully filed and can take people by surprise.
But this is no time to panic. The experienced theft crime lawyers at Affordable Defence in Ottawa can help protect your rights and ensure that an honest mistake or an error of judgement does not end up costing your liberties.
What is possession of stolen property?
Possession of stolen property is having property in your possession that was knowingly obtained through criminal means, as defined by Section 354 of the Criminal Code of Canada.
In simple terms, if the property is in your possession and you knew it was stolen, you can be charged with this crime.
Possession can include having physical custody of the property, constructive possession (it is in your control and you know where it is) or joint possession, where it is in the physical custody of another person but you both have control over it.
Because one of the key elements of the crime is the defendant being aware that the property was in their possession and was stolen, there is nearly always a valid defence.
It’s important to speak with a criminal defence lawyer as soon as possible after being arrested and charged so that we can begin working on your defence.
What happens if you are suspected of possessing stolen property in Ottawa?
If you are suspected of possessing stolen property, the Ottawa police will launch an investigation.
The action is usually started due to a complaint by a witness to the stolen property, such as the victim or a bystander who saw the incident.
At the scene of the alleged crime, the police will request written statements from the relevant parties and an investigation will start. The police may search you and look to gather evidence.
If there is enough evidence to suggest that you have stolen property, you will be arrested at the scene. If you are not present at the scene, you will be tracked down and a warrant may be issued for your arrest.
Evidence will be provided to the Crown Prosecutor by the police. Your lawyer can request access to this evidence.
If you decide to retain a theft crime lawyer at Affordable Defence, we will access the evidence, review it in detail, discuss your version of events, and start looking for weaknesses in the case against you as we begin compiling your defence.
Penalties for possession of stolen property in Ottawa
As with most theft crimes in Canada, punishment for possession of stolen property is divided into two categories depending on the value of the stolen property:
- Property valued at more than $5,000
- Property valued at less than $5,000
According to Section 355 of the Criminal Code:
- if the subject matter of the offence is a testamentary instrument or the value of the subject matter of the offence is more than $5,000, is guilty of
- an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than 10 years, or
- an offence punishable on summary conviction; or
- if the value of the subject matter of the offence is not more than $5,000, is guilty
- of an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or
- of an offence punishable on summary conviction.
These are hybrid offences. The strength of your defence will help decide what, if any penalties, you will face from the charges.
If we can get the charges dismissed or gain an acquittal at trial, your freedoms remain intact. If you are found guilty, the focus shifts to reducing the consequences you face.
Penalties vary from jail time to a discharge (i.e., a guilty verdict but no criminal conviction). In many cases, we can negotiate a fine and/or probation to keep you out of jail.
If you have a criminal history, you are less likely to escape jail but if it is your first offence, personal factors are in your favour, the value of the property was under $5,000, and no organized crime activity occurred, you have a reasonable chance of avoiding jail and serving your sentence in the community.
However, because possession of stolen property is a “crime of dishonesty”, a conviction can have a far-reaching impact on your reputation and employability. The permanent criminal record also impacts your future.
Never simply accept the charge of possession of stolen property without reviewing your legal options with an experienced theft crime lawyer.
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How can we defend possession of stolen property charges in Ottawa?
Even if you insist that you didn’t know that you had the property that you are accused of stealing, you can still be found guilty. If the court finds that you ought to have known or ought to have investigated the situation further before taking possession of the goods, this is enough for a conviction.
That said, there are valid defences available in most situations. In some cases, the facts of the case and evidence simply do not support you possessing the property illegally.
Valid defences include the following:
- No criminal intent or mental ability: for instance, you were holding something for a friend with no awareness that it was stolen.
- The property was legally yours: for instance, you can produce documentation that you legally owned the property.
- Mistaken identity: if there is no surveillance footage (or poor-quality footage) you may be able to prove that you were not there with a verifiable alibi.
- Violation of constitutional rights: officers must observe your rights under the Charter before and after your arrest. Failure to do so can result in case dismissal.
- A belief that you had a lawful right to the property: like purchasing something from a person you believed to be the legal owner.
- You were returning the property to the rightful owner: for instance, a parent returning something that their child stole from a neighbour.
Establishing absence of intent/mental ability
Lack of criminal intent or mental ability to commit the offence of possession of stolen property can be an effective defence – but it requires proof that you were not willfully blind to a crime being committed.
Mens Rea is the legal term used for intent/mental ability and your lawyer may suggest using this defence if you purchased an item from someone without knowing that it was obtained illegally.
Affordable defence for possession of stolen property in Ottawa
At Affordable Defence in Ottawa, we will discuss your case and advise you of your legal options during a free case evaluation.
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