Receiving a stolen motor vehicle is a crime in Massachusetts that is punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a lengthy driver’s license suspension. A subsequent conviction will result in one-year mandatory minimum jail sentence.
The Commonwealth must prove the following elements to convict a defendant of receiving a stolen motor vehicle:
The defendant “receives” the motor vehicle when he knowingly controls it or takes custody of it. Even if the defendant did not personally possess the stolen motor vehicle, he can be convicted if he intentionally controlled it somehow. If the defendant didn’t know the motor vehicle was stolen when he received it but later learned it had been stolen, he is guilty of receiving a stolen motor vehicle if he decides to keep the vehicle.
The most common defense strategy in receiving stolen motor vehicle cases is lack of knowledge. If the defendant didn’t know the car was stolen, he can’t be convicted of receiving a stolen motor vehicle. It’s insufficient for the Commonwealth to prove the defendant was negligent or careless – it must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that he knew the vehicle was stolen. If the vehicle identification (VIN) number has been destroyed or in some other way altered, it constitutes prima facie evidence that the defendant knew or should have known the vehicle was stolen (which means it can be presumed the defendant knew or should have known).
It’s ordinarily easier for the prosecutor to prove these cases against the drivers of stolen cars, because it’s reasonable that a driver would have more information about a car’s history than a passenger. Oftentimes when the police stop a car that turns out to be stolen, everyone in the car – the driver and all the passengers – will be charged with receiving a stolen motor vehicle. The simple act of being present in a stolen car is not enough for a person to be convicted of receiving a stolen motor vehicle. However, if there is incriminating evidence – such as a broken ignition switch – it can be inferred that the driver, and sometimes the passengers, knew or should have known the car was stolen.
A defendant who is convicted of receiving a stolen motor vehicle will be punished by the judge with a jail sentence or probation, but he will also be punished by the Registry of Motor Vehicles with a license suspension. The Registry is required by law to impose a one-year license suspension to run from the date the defendant is convicted, and unlike with some other suspensions, the defendant cannot receive a hardship license. The collateral consequence of a lengthy license suspension is often nearly as bad as the criminal penalty for the underlying conviction.
The good news is that many of these cases are defensible. If you are charged with receiving a stolen motor vehicle, leaving the scene of property damage, or reckless operation of a motor vehicle, call Attorney Chris Spring for a free consultation to review your options.