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Zoey, JD
Zoey, JD, Attorney
Category: Legal
Satisfied Customers: 23180
Experience:  Active member of the NYS bar since 1989
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About 8 months ago I was arrested at my house under very odd

Customer Question

About 8 months ago I was arrested at my house under very odd circumstances. At the time I was renting a small piece of land from a friend where I had my camper parked. My friends house was just about ten yards to the right of my camper so I was literally in their yard. They also had an out building about ten yards behind their house which they rented to a couple other people.
On the day I was arrested the circumstances were beyond odd. I was sound asleep in my bed when I was suddenly woken up by a Paulding county sheriff who had literally entered my camper and then entered my bedroom and with his gun in hand he literally shook my leg and woke me up. I was beyond shocked to see a sheriff with a gun standing there and asking me to come out of my camper because they needed to talk to me.
First I couldn't even believe he would have the right to enter without any type of warrant, then come into my room and wake me up to question me about an issue that had absolutely nothing to do with me.
I got up and went outside where the officers were standing and they walked over behind my camper to show me a motorcycle that had been parked behind my camper. I told them I didn't know who it belonged to but it certainly wasn't mine. They asked if I had ever seen it before and I told them I had seen it the night before for the first time and that one of the other roommates was riding it, but I had no clue why or how it ended up behind the camper.
Then the asked me about a small trailer that was parked behind my camper to which I immediately informed them it was mine and that I had recently purchased it about two weeks prior to that day.
Then they basically asked me to come sit on the driveway while they sorted out everything. They knew the motor cycle had nothing to do with me as they already had one of the thieves in handcuffs and asked me if he was one of the people I saw riding the motorcycle, to which I told them yes.
Before long it became clear that they were looking at everything on the property as being potentially stolen, and there was about 10 officers roaming around the property running serial numbers on nearly every tangible item. Most of the items did in fact belong to me including a Gator ATV, a zero turn lawn mower, a 18' car trailer, etc. Then they wanted me to open my gun safe because the heard I had a gun collection and they wanted to see if any of them were stolen. At first I objected because it seemed very unfounded that they wanted such access to my private belongings for reasons that had no tangible foundation, but they insisted that if I didn't open it they had enough probable cause to get a warrant and that would make things even more complicated.
I finally agreed to let one of the detectives look in my safe and check out my guns. I had never been in any trouble in my life and I knew I had nothing to hide as all my guns were legally purchased by me.
The detective took out all the guns which totaled seven and he called them in to be checked for being stolen. Each gun came back clean and they allowed me to put all of them back in my safe.
After that they asked me to write a statement about who I saw riding the stolen motorcycle which I did. After all that they went ahead and arrested the thief and escorted him to one of the police cars. Then as they were all leaving one of the officers asked me to walk up to his car with him. Once we got to his car he informs me I'm being arrested for Theft by Receiving. I was beyond shocked. As it would seem the small utility trailer I had purchased two weeks prior was in fact stolen. But I had no clue that was the case, and I couldn't believe they were charging me with a crime when I was in fact the victim since they were taking my trailer that I purchased for real money. I had the bill of sale from the guy I bought it from, but I got charged anyway.
I reviewed the law and it's clear that to be charged with theft by receiving, you must be in possession of something that's you "Knew, or Should Have Known" was stolen. That's the burden of proof required to make the charge and it was more than obvious I did not know for one second it was stolen, had I known it was stolen I could have simply said I had no idea who it belonged to, but claiming it as mine in itself shows I didn't know it was stolen. Plus I did my reasonable questioning before buying it. I looked for the vin plate which was in tact, I looked for any sign of damage to the locks or door and everything seemed normal. I didn't know the seller very well but was a friend of another mutual friend and he seemed respectable to me. He was asking for $500 which was a good deal but certainly not giving it away as it was very small and was probably around $1000 when it was new. Everything seemed reasonable to me including the hand written bill of sale so I decided to but it.
I'm 38 years old and I've never been in any trouble with the law, I want advice on how to handle this.
Submitted: 6 months ago.
Category: Legal
Expert:  Zoey, JD replied 6 months ago.
Hello, There is a huge difference between the amount of evidence necessary to arrest someone and charge him with a crime and to convict someone after trial. To make an arrest and get the ball rolliing, all the police need is something called probable cause. Probable cause is just a reasonable belief that you may have knowingly been receiving stolen goods. On as little as that the prosecutor can file charges against you and even get an indictment. To convict you, however, the state must prove its case against you beyond a reasonable doubt. That's as heavy a burden as the arrest burden is light. And your review of the law is accurate. They would have to establish that you knew or should have known the property you obtained was stolen. You need to get a criminal lawyer to assist you with fighting this case. As part of that you would be able to have a hearing to challenge the probable cause and the search, which you are also concerned about. Don't make the assumption that because it's obvious to you that you couldn't have known you bought a stolen trailer, then that has to be obvious as well to every right thinking human being. In my experience your case is unlikely to be dismissed straight out of the box because you show up with a receipt. The state believes it has probable cause to charge you regardless and it's entitled to try to go forward and prove it. If ultimately you have a credible seller, this might come out just the way you want it to. But it's probably not something that you are going to be able to make go away on your first court date by waving a piece of paper. If you have no criminal record, it's in your best interest to leave your defense to a professional. Have a lawyer with you at your arraignment.
Customer: replied 6 months ago.
Well since the time I was arrested I've come to find out that the person who sold me the trailer is actually quite known for this type of stuff. He has been arrested several times for selling and or having stolen trailers on his property. I didn't know anything about his background accept the he was once very wealthy and successful. I guess the main thing for me is the financial aspect of hiring a lawyer. I'll have to look for a reasonable solution. I just can't believe the state really thinks the charge is credible enough to move on. If I'm not mistaken, they have to prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that I knew or should have known it was stolen. And they have to convince 12 people to see it their way without a single dissenting voice. On my end all I have to do is create the slightest doubt, when in reality I can't even see the direct path to discovering it was stolen before I bought it. There is no public database where individuals can run numbers to check, and it seems a bit distasteful to tell someone you're doing business with that you want to involve the police, which no one does because they would need a dedicated staff just for that if it became a standard for private purchases to involve police. It's hard for me to imagine a way that I could have been more diligent than I already was. I took my time in looking it over, and was even further convinced of its credibility by the presence of the vin plate which can easily be removed by a thief making it nearly impossible to determine if the trailer was stolen. In your professional opinion, how likely is it that they could secure a conviction against me in a jury trial?
Expert:  Zoey, JD replied 6 months ago.
No, they don't have to prove you did or should have reasonably known the vehicle was stolen beyond a shadow of a doubt. The burden of proof is lower than that. It's beyond a reasonable doubt. But yes, the DA would have to convince a jury to vote unanimously for your guilt. A split verdict would yield a hung jury, after which the judge would grant a mistrial and the DA would retry he case. I can't possibly give you the odds of your success at trial without having access to everything that I'd be able to see and do if I were actually representing you on this case. I've heard your side of the story, and I agree that there are facts that are very favorable to the defense. However, without seeing the court complaint, looking over the discovery material, doing an independent investigation and conferring with the prosecutor, I don't have any real sense of everything that could come out on the stand in the State's case. If I've learned one thing from trying criminal cases since 1989, no case is ever a slam-dunk for the prosecutor or the defense. What I can tell you is that if you wanted to resolve this without a trial -- not saying you should, but just painting a larger picture for you -- if you have no previous criminal record, you're almost certainly not looking at anything worse than probation for something like this. And I can also tell you that if you do wish a trial, the odds are very, very high that you will not succeed if you represent yourself. If you cannot afford a lawyer without incurring substantial hardships, then you should be eligible for a public defender. At your first court date, you can plead not guilty and ask the court for a public defender.

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