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Is Possession of Stolen Property a Felony?

In North Carolina, the laws surrounding the possession of stolen property can be complex. Whether you face misdemeanor or felony charges depends on various factors, including the fair market value of the property involved and the circumstances of the crime.

Read on to find out what you need to know if you’re faced with possession of stolen property charges in North Carolina.

Is Possession of Stolen Property a Felony?

Possessing stolen goods or property in North Carolina is a crime that can be treated as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances. While theft of property and possessing stolen property are two separate offenses, they can have similar consequences under the law. 


Generally, if the value of the stolen property obtained is less than $1,000, the crime is treated as a Class 1 misdemeanor. For example, receiving stolen property worth $995 is still a misdemeanor unless the DA can prove that the property involved was worth more. Consequences for property worth less than $1000 bring misdemeanor charges that might include fines and jail time, but these vary from case to case.


If the fair market value of the stolen goods is $1,000 or more, you can face Class H felony charges. The value of the property is the most important factor in determining what type of charges you face. This brings about more severe penalties, including potential imprisonment.

Proving Possession of Stolen Property

Proving possession of stolen goods requires sufficient evidence:

  • Knowingly possessed the property involved
  • Knew, or should have known, it was stolen
  • Intended to keep the stolen property or benefit from it in some way

Merely having stolen goods without knowledge doesn’t make you guilty of this crime. You must be someone who intentionally receives property involved in a theft. You must know that the property involved is stolen property. And you must have the requisite intent to keep the stolen goods or use it to obtain value.

For example, if someone hands you a stolen gun and you are taking it to the police station, you may have a viable defense. If you explicitly represent to law enforcement that you had no intent to keep the gun for your own benefit, you may avoid a conviction.

However, it’s hard to prove that you were on your way to the police station with a stolen gun. Working with an experienced criminal defense attorney can help prevent you from being convicted of a theft crime.

Defenses and Legal Help

There are solid defenses to possession of stolen property. If faced with this charge, seeking legal assistance from an attorney familiar with North Carolina law is often the best course of action. Defenses in a legal situation will vary based on the unique circumstances of each case.

Here are general defenses that might be applicable to a charge of possession of stolen property:

Lack of Knowledge

You may argue that you were unaware that the property involved and in your possession was stolen. This might serve as a valid defense if you can prove that you had no reasonable grounds to believe the property involved was stolen.

Mistaken Identity

If you can demonstrate that you were not the individual who possessed the stolen property or that you were wrongly identified as the person involved, this could lead to a dismissal of the charges.

Perhaps law enforcement only has circumstantial evidence linking you to the crime.

Valid Claim of Ownership

You may claim a valid, legal right to the property in question. This might serve as a defense if you can show evidence of ownership or a legitimate reason to believe you had ownership rights.

Consent of the Owner

Suppose the original thief accused of stealing the property can prove that they had the consent of the owner to have the property, and they were unaware that it was stolen. In that case, you might use this as a defense for possessing stolen property.

Insufficient Evidence

If the prosecution cannot present enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused knowingly possessed stolen property, this may result in a not-guilty verdict. Challenging the quality or authenticity of the evidence might be a strategic defense in such a case.


Entrapment may occur when law enforcement induces a person to commit a crime they would not have committed otherwise. If you can prove you were coerced or persuaded by law enforcement to possess stolen property, this could be a valid defense.

Temporary Possession

If you can demonstrate that your possession of the stolen property was temporary and intended to benefit the rightful owner (for example, your intent to return the property to its owner or the police), this could form the basis of a defense.


Duress involves being forced or threatened by someone else to commit a crime. This might be considered a valid defense if you can prove that you possess stolen property only because you were under a genuine and reasonable threat or fear for your safety.

Constructive Possession Challenge

Challenging the concept of possession may also be a valid defense. If you prove that you did not have actual control or dominion over the stolen property and were not in a position to exercise control over it, this may refute the charge.

The above defenses are general and may or may not apply to your specific case. The application and success of these defenses depend highly on the individual facts of your case and the laws of your jurisdiction.

Consult with a North Carolina criminal defense attorney familiar with the specific laws and circumstances of the jurisdiction in question. They can tailor a defense to the unique facts of your case using the applicable state laws and precedents.

Possessing a Stolen Motor Vehicle

In North Carolina, stealing a motor vehicle is similar to other types of theft. The relevant statute is:

North Carolina General Statutes § 14-72(a1). Larceny of motor fuel and motor vehicles

This specific statute provides details on the definition of theft of motor vehicles. The law states:

“The crime of larceny of a motor vehicle is a Class H felony. The crime of larceny of motor fuel is a Class F felony if the value of the motor fuel is more than one thousand dollars ($1,000). Any other larceny of motor fuel is a Class 1 misdemeanor.”

In North Carolina, the law specifically addressing the possession of a stolen car is found in:

North Carolina General Statutes § 20-106. Possession of a stolen motor vehicle

The statute states:

“Any person who shall feloniously receive or possess any motor vehicle that has been stolen, and who shall know or have reasonable grounds to believe that the vehicle has been stolen, shall be guilty of a Class H felony.”

This law clearly defines the crime of possessing a stolen motor vehicle as a Class H felony in North Carolina, emphasizing the serious nature of this offense. It’s worth mentioning that understanding the complexities of the law requires careful interpretation.

If you’re dealing with an issue of stolen motor vehicle possession charges, consult with an attorney well-versed in North Carolina law to understand the specific application to your situation.

Receiving Stolen Property vs. Possessing Stolen Property

In North Carolina, the laws related to receiving stolen property and possessing stolen property are closely connected. In North Carolina, the laws regarding receiving or possessing stolen property are primarily found in the North Carolina General Statutes (NCGS). Here’s the relevant citation:

North Carolina General Statutes § 14-71.1. Receiving or possessing stolen goods states:

“It is unlawful to receive or possess any property that has been stolen knowing or having reasonable grounds to believe the property to have been stolen. … If the property has a value of more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), the person is guilty of a Class H felony. If the property has a value of one thousand dollars ($1,000) or less, the person is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.”

So to break it down:

Receiving Stolen Property: Receiving stolen property refers to the act of intentionally taking or accepting property that is known or reasonably believed to be stolen. This includes property obtained through buying, accepting as a gift, or otherwise acquiring the property.

Possessing Stolen Property: Possessing stolen property is defined as having custody or control over property known to be stolen. This can include holding the property for another person or even having it within one’s living area.

In North Carolina, receiving and possessing stolen property are often treated as the same criminal offense. This law clearly explains that receiving or possessing stolen goods is treated as the same offense in North Carolina and outlines the classifications for both offenses as misdemeanor and felony charges based on the property’s value.

The focus is on whether you knew or should have known the property was stolen and what you intended to do with it.

Defenses for receiving stolen property are similar to those for possession. Penalties can include fines, probation, or imprisonment, depending on the severity of the crime.

Anyone facing charges related to receiving or possessing stolen property in North Carolina should consult an attorney familiar with the state’s laws to understand the specific application in their case.

An Experienced Theft Attorney Can Help

Facing a charge of possession of stolen property can be a confusing and overwhelming experience. At Scharff Law, our experienced theft attorneys understand the complexities of the legal system and the specific laws related to theft in your jurisdiction.

We thoroughly analyze the facts of your case, identify potential defenses, and develop a strategy tailored to your unique situation. Whether negotiating a plea deal or representing you in court, we advocate for your rights and work diligently to achieve the best possible outcome.

In a legal area filled with nuances and technicalities, having a legal professional focusing on theft law on your side can make a significant difference in the resolution of your case.

Get in touch with us today at Scharff Law for a free consultation and get started finding the best outcome for your charges!