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Sale or Receipt of Stolen Vehicles - 18 U.S. Code § 2313

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Nov 17, 2022

While every state has laws that make vehicle theft a crime, it becomes the federal government's jurisdiction when stolen vehicles cross a state or international boundary.

If you're accused of selling or receiving a stolen vehicle across those boundaries while knowing it was stolen, you could face severe penalties under Title 18 U.S.C. 2313. You could face up to 10 years in federal prison if convicted.

Sale or Receipt of Stolen Vehicles - 18 U.S. Code § 2313

18 U.S.C. 2313 says, “(a) Whoever receives, possesses, conceals, stores, barters, sells, or disposes of any motor vehicle, vessel, or aircraft, which has crossed a state or United States boundary after being stolen, knowing they were stolen, shall be fined or imprisoned for up to ten years, or both.”

This statute further says that the term “state” includes the District of Columbia and any commonwealth, territory, or possession of the United States.

You can be charged and convicted for knowingly having stolen property in your possession or getting involved with it. 

A federal defense lawyer could help you better understand any aggravating factors resulting in severe penalties after being accused of involvement with stolen vehicles.

Further, if you are involved with the stolen property at the federal level, you could face additional criminal charges under other statutes that carry their penalties. Let's review this federal law in more detail below.

Overview of 18 U.S.C. 2313

The federal crime of selling or receiving a stolen vehicle applies when someone knowingly engages in a transaction involving a stolen vehicle that has crossed a state line or United States border, and they knew the car was stolen when they did so. Other things to know about this law:

  • 18 U.S.C. 2313 extends beyond simply selling stolen vehicles. It makes it a crime to receive knowingly, possess, store, conceal (hide), sell, barter, or dispose of a stolen vehicle;
  • Under this law, a "vehicle" refers to a motor vehicle, vessel (i.e., boat), or aircraft;
  • For purposes of this law, a "state" refers to any of the United States, the District of Columbia, or any territory or possession of the U.S.;

What are Some Examples?

EXAMPLE 1: Josh steals a car in Rhode Island and flees with it into Connecticut. He stops at his friend Gloria's house, tells her what he did, and asks her to temporarily hide the car in her garage.

Grand Theft Auto in California

Gloria agrees. She can be charged with a federal crime under 18 U.S.C. 2313 because even though she didn't actively participate in the car theft, she willingly concealed it knowing it was stolen.

EXAMPLE 2: Same facts as Example 1, but when Josh tells Gloria about the theft, she refuses to have anything to do with it. Josh then leaves the car on the street in front of her house.

Gloria cannot be charged under 18 U.S.C. 2313 because she did not knowingly receive or possess the stolen vehicle.

EXAMPLE 3: Bill operates a small aircraft hangar in Montana. A friend steals a small plane in Canada, flies it across the border to Bill's hangar, and offers Bill a portion of the profit if he sells it for him, to which Bill agrees.

Bill can be charged with the sale/receipt of a stolen vehicle under federal law because the plane crossed a U.S. boundary.

What Are the Related Crimes?

The federal laws, definitions, and penalties for the stolen property are listed within found in 18 U.S. Code Chapter 113, including the following:

  • 18 U.S.C. 2311 - definitions;
  • 18 U.S.C. 2312 - transportation of stolen vehicles - The act of transporting a motor vehicle, vessel, or aircraft in "interstate or foreign commerce," i.e., across state or international boundaries knowing the vehicle to be stolen;
  • 18 U.S.C. 2314 - transportation of stolen goods - The act of transporting any stolen goods across state or international boundaries with a total value exceeding $5000. It also includes transporting securities or money obtained fraudulently or items used to create counterfeits;
  • 18 U.S.C. 2315 - sale or receipt of stolen goods - The act of selling, receiving, storing, concealing, or bartering stolen goods while knowing they were stolen. It also includes the sale or receipt of securities or money obtained fraudulently or items used to create counterfeits;
  • 18 U.S.C. 2316 - transportation of livestock;
  • 18 U.S.C. 2317 - sale or receipt of livestock;
  • 18 U.S.C. 2318 - trafficking in counterfeit labels or packaging;
  • 18 U.S.C. 2319 - criminal infringement of copyright;
  • 18 U.S.C. 2319A - trafficking in sound recordings and music videos;
  • 18 U.S.C. 2319B - unauthorized recording of motion pictures;
  • 18 U.S.C. 2320 - trafficking in counterfeit goods or services;
  • 18 U.S.C. 2321 - trafficking in certain motor vehicles or parts;
  • 18 U.S.C. 2322 – chop shops;
  • 18 U.S.C. 2323 - forfeiture, destruction, and restitution.

What Are the Penalties for a Violation?

Selling or receiving a stolen vehicle across state/international lines is a federal felony offense that may result in steep penalties. If convicted of this crime, you could face up to 10 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

What Are the Common Legal Defenses?

Depending on your case's facts, several defenses may be available if you've been accused of violating federal law by selling or receiving a stolen vehicle. Some common examples are discussed below.

Perhaps we can argue that you didn't know the vehicle was stolen. To be convicted of this crime, the prosecution must prove that you knew the car was stolen when you sold, stored, or received it. If you had no reason to believe the vehicle was stolen, that might be a defense to the charges.

Legal Defenses for Sale or Receipt of Stolen Vehicles

For example, suppose you purchase a car from someone you met online and later discover that the car's title is fraudulent. You would not be guilty of receiving a stolen vehicle because you had no way of knowing the car was stolen when you bought it.

Perhaps the stolen vehicle never crossed a state or international boundary. If you can show the vehicle never left the state where it was stolen, you cannot be charged with a federal crime, although you may still be charged with a crime at the state level.

Perhaps we can negotiate with the federal prosecutor for a favorable plea agreement if guilt is not in doubt. We would need first to look over all the details of the case.

Contact us for a case evaluation by phone or fill out the contact form. Eisner Gorin LLP is located in Los Angeles, California, but provides legal representation for federal criminal issues across the United States.

About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...

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