Review of Interstate Transportation of Stolen Property and Defenses
18 U.S.C. § 2314 makes it a crime to transport stolen goods over state lines if you knew the property was stolen. Receiving, possessing, selling, concealing, or disposing of the stolen goods, knowing they were stolen, is a related federal crime and punishable under 18 U.S.C. § 2315.
Federal criminal charges for transporting stolen goods requires an act to transfer through interstate commerce any items that were allegedly stolen with a value exceeding $5,000.
These items include any goods, securities, or money. Further, you must have knowledge the goods were stolen, converted, or taken by fraud, when you received them.
There are several federal law enforcement agencies that investigate theft related crimes, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Office of Enforcement Operations (OEO), Department of Homeland Security (DHS, and others.
These cases are prosecuted by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ).
If you've been charged with interstate transportation of stolen property, you may be wondering what comes next. The very worst part of being charged with any crime is not knowing what you're about to face.
In this guide from our federal criminal defense lawyers, we'll provide you some answers, explaining just what the interstate transport statute says, what you can expect from the prosecutor and possible defense strategies.
What are the Principles of the Law?
18 U.S.C § 2314 deals with “transportation of stolen goods, securities, money, fraudulent state tax stamps, or articles used in counterfeiting.”
In simplest terms, if you steal something, that theft is typically dealt with under state and local laws.
However, if what you've stolen is worth at least $5000, and you decide to take it across state or international borders, your theft becomes a federal offense.
Of course, as with many laws, there are additional complications to consider. For instance:
- Under the law, fraud constitutes a form of theft, and in cases of fraud, there is no minimum threshold amount. In other words, you don't need to have defrauded someone of $5000 to be arrested and found guilty.
- Internet activity is always treated as having taken place across state lines. Any theft that involves computers is usually treated as interstate transport of stolen property.
In combination, these two aspects of the statute mean that should you send someone a fraudulent email that infects their computer with a virus, you could be charged under the law.
What is the Legal Process?
Because 18 U.S. Code § 2314 involves multiple states, the FBI usually has investigative jurisdiction. However, the Office of Enforcement Operations (OEO) takes a supervisory role in the case.
Other federal agencies can be involved as well, though. For instance, in the case of bank robberies, the FBI retains investigative jurisdiction, but the Criminal Division's Organized Crime and Gang section has supervisory authority.
Likewise, when stolen property crosses international lines, the Department of Homeland Security or the Department of Defense may participate in the investigation and prosecution.
Federal prosecutors will investigate and prosecute cases involving organized crime that moves stolen property across state lines.
In these exceptional circumstances, the federal government will handle the case rather than local law enforcement agencies.
These type of situations include when a stolen vehicle is used to commit a separate felony crime and then sent to a foreign country, or it's a stolen commercial vehicle or construction equipment.
What are the Penalties?
If you're found guilty, the sentence for interstate transportation of stolen property is a fine, or up to ten years in prison, or both.
There are exceptions, however. Theft of certain items can be treated under a different statute, even if you transported the items across state lines.
If, for instance, you steal pre-retail medical equipment and transport it across state lines, you'll be charged not under 18 U.S. Code § 2314, but under 18 U.S.C. § 670, theft of medical products, which carries a stiffer prison term of up to 15 years.
Another example is the transportation of motor vehicles across state or international borders.
This specific crime is dealt with in 18 U.S.C.§2312-2313. In this case, though, penalties are roughly equivalent to those for transporting any other stolen object: a fine and up to 10 years in prison.
What are the Related Offenses?
One important statute closely related to 18 U.S.C. § 2314 is the mail fraud statute, 18 U.S.C. §1341.
This is because, like online activity, the federal government considers the mail to be an “interstate” activity no matter where a letter or package may travel.
Consequently, if you use the U.S. postal service or another mail service to ship a stolen item, your actions fall under federal rather than state or local jurisdiction. A single count of mail fraud can result in up to $250,000 in fines.
Other federal theft related offenses include the following:
- 18 U.S.C. 2312 – motor vehicle theft or transportation,
- 18 U.S.C. 2315 – sale or receipt of stolen vehicles,
- 18 U.S.C. 659 – theft from interstate shipment.
The National Motor Vehicle Theft Act (NMVT) makes it a crime to transport a motor vehicle, aircraft, or another types of vessels across state lines if you knew they were stolen.
Possessing the stolen goods was added to the statute to allow federal prosecutors to indict someone with a federal theft crime even in a situation where they can't prove how the vehicle was stolen.
What are the Best Defenses?
To prove you are guilty of 18 U.S.C § 2314 interstate transport of stolen property, a prosecutor must meet three criteria. They must show:
- That you actually transported or caused to be transported a stolen item;
- That the item had a value of over $5000;
- That you acted willfully, with full knowledge that the item had been stolen.
A defense could target any of those three criteria. Often, for example, it's possible to dispute the actual value of a stolen item. If the value doesn't rise to $5000, the theft becomes a state rather than a federal matter.
In addition, it isn't always easy for a prosecutor to prove what a defendant knew or didn't know before transporting an object.
You might have been carrying an object for someone else, or you might have purchased the object not realizing it had been stolen.
Put simply, if you did not know the property was stolen at the time you received it, then you can't be convicted of transporting stolen property, but could be held accountable for possession of stolen property.
In other cases, it might be possible to prove that the item didn't cross state lines or that you didn't intend to keep the item.
Further, we might be able to argue the owner gave you consent, or the property did not move in interstate commerce.
Of course, while there may be many options for a defense, only a qualified defense attorney knows how to craft the best strategy for your particular case.
Our federal criminal attorneys have created effective defense strategies that have helped our clients avoid charges, keep their professional licenses, and avoid huge fines and federal prison time.
We might be able to negotiate a favorable plea bargain with the federal prosecutor.
Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles County. Contact our law firm for an initial consultation at 877-781-1570.