Stolen Property: Offence, Essentials and Explanation

By | May 16, 2020
Stolen Property: Offence

Last Updated :

Stolen Property: Offence, Essentials and Explanation | Overview

What makes receiving the stolen property an offence? What is the territorial limit to such offences? When can we hold the accused liable for knowing the property to be stolen? All these questions are answered in this article.

The article discusses what is stolen property and offences relating to it, in the introductory part. Further, the offence of dishonestly receiving or retaining stolen property along with the essentials of that offence is explained in detail by elaborating on each and every essential. After that, the offence of dishonestly receiving or retaining the property which is stolen in the commission of dacoity is discussed. Apart from these the offence of assisting in concealing the stolen property and habitual dealing with the stolen property are explained in brief.

Introduction

Did you ever think what happens to the property which is stolen in a theft or robbery or dacoity? Is it given to someone or shared amongst the offenders or is sold in the market for stolen property. And if there is such a place or person where/who voluntarily and knowingly receives such stolen property is said to be an offence. Such acts encourage the offences of theft, robbery, extortion and dacoity. Hence there is a category of offences titled – “Of the Receiving of Stolen Property”[1] under the chapter titled – “OF OFFENCES AGAINST PROPERTY”[2]  under the Penal Code of India. The definition of what is stolen property is given in the penal code under section 410.[3]

410 Stolen property— Property, the possession whereof has been transferred by theft, or by extortion, or by robbery, and property which has been criminally misappropriated or in respect of which criminal breach of trust has been committed, is designated as stolen property, whether the transfer has been made, or the misappropriation or breach of trust has been committed, within or without India. But, if such property subsequently comes into the possession of a person legally entitled to the possession thereof, it then ceases to be stolen property”

The similar offence is mentioned in the Larceny Act 1961 of England titled- “Receiving” under section 33.[4] However there is a slight difference between the two i.e., the stolen property can be anything obtained under whatsoever circumstances which amount to felony or misdemeanour as under Larceny Act but the Indian Penal Code specifies in the definition that the stolen property must be obtained by “theft” or by “extortion” or by “robbery” and must be criminally misappropriated or in respect with “criminal breach of trust”. Hence the English Law is much wider whereas Indian Law is restrictive.[5]

The above definition does not talk about the offence related to stolen property. The offence of receiving the stolen property dishonestly is provided under section 411 and section 412. These sections punish only the receiver of stolen property and not the one who stole it through any means mentioned in those sections. Further, the conviction of the principal offender is not necessary for conviction of the receiver under these sections.[6]

Offence of receiving property

As mentioned earlier the offence of dishonestly receiving property which is stolen is provided under section 411 of the penal code.[7] This section is applicable generally i.e., to all those properties which are obtained by any of the offences mentioned in the definition above.

411 Dishonestly receiving stolen property— Whoever dishonestly receives or retains any stolen property, knowing or having reason to believe the same to be stolen property, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both”

I. Essentials: When is it an Offence to receive the stolen property?

We have studied as to what constitutes an offence. But we need to study the essentials of this offence to know when is it an offence to receive stolen property. The following are the essentials-

  1. The property in question must be a “stolen property”
  2. Such “stolen property” must be “dishonestly received or retained” by the accused
  3. The accused must do so by “knowing or having reason to believe the same to be stolen property”

Stolen Property

The first and foremost essential of this offence is that the property in question must be stolen property. If it is not proved that the accused possessed stolen property then the conviction under this section is not possible.[8]

The stolen property must be the property which is out of the owner’s possession and in possession of the accused obtained by any means as mentioned in section 410 or section 412. Hence, when the goods are in the possession of the rightful owner then they cease to be termed as “stolen property”. In the case of Haughton v. Smith (1866) LR ICCR 15, some thieves stole a few goods which were in the custody of a railway company. They parcelled and addressed it to the accused. When the goods were being delivered through a same railway company line, the police officials seized those stolen goods. On the following day, the police officials had allowed the delivery of those stolen goods to the address mentioned, and the accused was arrested. The court held that the moment stolen goods were found and seized, it ceases to be termed as “stolen property”.[9]

But when there is no owner to a certain property the act of misappropriating that property would not amount to conviction under this offence.[10] The definition of “stolen property” is restrictive in nature. If the goods are obtained by committing any offence other than as mentioned in section 410 then it would not be considered as “stolen property”.[11] Hence when a property is obtained by committing forgery or cheating, then that property cannot be termed as “stolen property”.[12]

Further, the stolen property can be altered in its form but the substantive nature must remain the same.[13] For example, a sheep is stolen and cut into meat pieces. The sheep might have lost its original form but the meat would still remain to be stolen property.[14]

No Territorial Limit

The stolen property definition included the clause “whether the transfer has been made, or the misappropriation or breach of trust has been committed, within or without India” in the year 1882 through “Indian Penal Code (Amendment) Act 1882”.[15] This change was made to exclude any kind of territorial limitation as it would make the case complicated and to not promote the practice of selling or delivering the stolen goods outside the boundaries of India.

Receipt of Stolen Property: What makes it an Offence?

Section 411 clearly mentions that the stolen property must be dishonestly received or retained. Hence, in the absence of dishonesty, this section cannot be applied. The receipt of stolen property is itself not a crime but when it is coupled with the dishonest intention it is made punishable.[16]

The terms used in the section i.e., “receiving” and “retaining” are different. The difference may be the change in intention. In the case of receiving stolen property one must have the dishonest intention from the beginning to get convicted under this section. But in case of retaining one may not have a dishonest intention, while receiving, which changes in the course of time and tends to retain such stolen property dishonestly. Hence, the legislators have paid attention to both kinds of situations.[17]

Knowledge or Reason to believe to be Stolen Property

The mere fact that one has received the stolen property is not sufficient. The prosecution has to prove that the property was received or retained dishonestly although the accused had the knowledge or some reason to believe that the property was stolen.[18] The court of law while dealing with the offence of receipt of stolen property has to consider that the terms “knowledge” and “reason to believe” are subjective in nature.[19] Therefore, the circumstances are studied and if the facts are such which makes any prudent man to have convinced to believe that the property which the man is receiving or dealing with is stolen property, then it satisfies the standard of “reasons to believe”.[20] There will be no conviction if the accused merely was careless or did not enquire if it was obtained honestly or did not suspect that the property was stolen although had reasons to suspect so.[21] The degree of “believe” is higher than “suspect”.[22]

In the case of Bhanwarlal v. State of Rajasthan (1995) 1 Cr LJ 625(Raj), the court held that when the accused was sold many kilos of silver for only a meagre consideration, he had all reasons to believe that the property must have been stolen. Thus, the presumption that the accused knowing or having reasons to believe that the silver was stolen property was applied in this case. The court held the accused convict under section 411.[23]

It is not a mitigating fact if the property was initially received with honest intention and no knowledge, the accused will be liable even if the property is retained after knowing or having reason to believe that the property is stolen.[24] The prosecution is neither required to prove the initial honesty of the accused in such cases nor to prove who stole the property.

II. Limit of Liability

The conviction under this offence can be made against the accused if the above essentials are fulfilled. But the liability of the accused is only limited to the extent of the quantity of stolen goods or property possessed by him.[25] The accused cannot be made liable for the stolen goods which are not possessed by him. Thus, the goods which are not recovered by the accused cannot affect his liability.[26] If an accused merely knows the whereabouts of the stolen property it does not make him liable under this section. They must be possessed by the accused.[27]

However the actual physical possession is not mandatory. In the case of Re Shwedhar Sukall, (1913) ILR 40 Cal 990, the court decided that the accused showing the receipt of the stolen goods to the railway company and paying the freight for the same, receives those goods delivered through the railway company as a consignee. Here, the accused had generated a possibility of potential possession by acting as a consignee using a railway receipt of the consignment. This fact itself makes the accused liable for receiving or possessing the stolen property which may not be physical.[28]

Receipt of Property stolen in the commission of Dacoity

The offence of dishonestly receiving property which is stolen in the commission of dacoity is provided under section 412 of the penal code.[29]

412 Dishonestly receiving property stolen in the commission of a dacoity— Whoever dishonestly receives or retains any stolen property, the possession whereof he knows or has reason to believe to have been transferred by the commission of dacoity, or dishonestly receives from a person, whom he knows or has reason to believe to belong or to have belonged to a gang of dacoits, property which he knows or has reason to believe to have been stolen, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine”

This section is specifically applicable to those cases where the property received or retained by the accused is obtained by the commission of dacoity. This section is much severe, as the offence of dacoity is an aggravated form of robbery and requires harsh treatment compared to robbery. The prosecution must prove that the accused dishonestly received the property knowing or having reason to believe that they were stolen while committing dacoity for conviction of the accused under this section.[30]

The main difference between section 411 and section 412 is the knowledge that stolen goods were the result of dacoity. The accused can be convicted under this section only when he knows or has reason to believe that the stolen property was obtained in the commission of dacoity. In the absence of such knowledge regarding stolen property the accused cannot be made liable under section 412 but may be liable under section 411.[31] Hence, even though the prosecution proves that the accused knows that the property was stolen but the facts did not prove that he had sufficient knowledge that these were stolen in a dacoity, the accused falls short of conviction under section 412 but rather gets convicted under section 411.[32]

The accused or the receiver of the stolen goods cannot be made liable under this section if he himself was part of dacoity. In such a case, he can be made liable for committing dacoity but not for receiving stolen property.[33] But when the stolen property is found immediately after committing dacoity, the accused will be held liable not only for receipt of property but also for dacoity. When the property looted is being recovered from a certain place, then for the accused to be convicted under section 412, he must have exclusive possession of that place.[34]

II. Assistance: Is it an offence to conceal stolen property?

The penal code of India even punishes for assisting the offence of receipt of stolen property. The offence of “assisting in concealment of stolen property” as provided in section 414 of the penal code.[35]

414 Assisting in concealment of stolen property— Whoever voluntarily assists in concealing or disposing of or making away with property which he knows or has reason to believe to be stolen property, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both”

The law punishes not only the offenders but also those who assist such offences. Because such concealment encourages stealing and makes it difficult for officials to find the stolen goods and trace the criminals.[36] Thus, section 414 targets those offenders who voluntarily conceal or dispose or make away with property which is known or have reasons to believe to be stolen property. This assistance to the person who commits theft or extortion or robbery who criminally misappropriate or criminally breach the trust of the victim and obtain their property is punishable under section 414. There is no requirement to prove the conviction of the person who stole that property to convict the accused under this section.[37]

III. Habitual Offender

It is an offence to habitually deal in the stolen property under section 413, penal code of India.[38] The conviction under this section can be charged against those who commit the offence provided either in section 411 or section 412.

413 Habitually dealing in stolen property— Whoever habitually receives or deals in property which he knows or has reason to believe to be stolen property, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine”

This offence of habitual dealing in stolen property provides severe punishment. If the accused commits the offence of dealing in stolen property at single time with a different number of robbers or thieves, then he cannot be liable under this section.[39] The section requires the accused to be habitually dealing with stolen property, it must be a continuous and constant act of receiving the property, which he knows or has reason to believe to be stolen.


 [1] Indian Penal Code 1860, ss 410-414

[2] Indian Penal Code 1860, ch XVII

[3] Indian Penal Code 1860, s 410

[4] Larceny Act 1961, s 33

[5] Pillai book

[6] Mir Nagvi Askari v CBI (2009) 15 SCC 643

[7] Indian Penal Code 1860, s 411

[8] Chand Mal v State of Rajasthan AIR 1976 SC 917

[9] Haughton v Smith (1866) LR ICCR 15

[10] Bandhu (1885) ILR 8 All 51

[11] Phul Chand Dube v State of Uttar Pradesh (1929) ILR 52 All 200

[12] Re Monmohunroy (1875) 24 WR (Cri) 33

[13] Re Mahabir Sao (1972) Cr LJ 458 (SC)

[14] Cowell v Green (1796) 2 East PC 617

[15] Indian Penal Code (Amendment) Act 1882, Act No 12 of 1891, s 9

[16] Rajendra Kumar v State of West Bengal (1969) Cr LJ 243(Cal)

[17] Balinath v State (1957) ILR Cut 112

[18] Mohan Lal v State of Maharashtra AIR 1979 SC 1718

[19] Satnarain Sao v State of Bihar (1972) 3 SCC 881

[20] Suraj Prasad v Emperor AIR 1929 Oudh 213

[21] Gaya Prasad v Emperor AIR 1932 Oudh 251

[22] AG Edgecombe v Emperor AIR 1928 Cal 264

[23] Bhanwarlal v State of Rajasthan (1995) 1 Cr LJ 625(Raj)

[24] Bena Jena v State of Orissa AIR 1958 Ori 106

[25] Trimbak v State of Madhya Pradesh AIR 1954 SC 39

[26] Chhedi v State of Uttar Pradesh AIR 1953 All 752

[27] Maharaj v Emperor AIR 1945 All 230

[28] Re Shwedhar Sukall (1913) ILR 40 Cal 990

[29] Indian Penal Code 1860, s 412

[30] Adeluddin v Emperor AIR 1945 Cal 482

[31] Achyut Das v State of Assam AIR 1994 SC 968

[32] Re Moinuddin Majumdar (1972) Cr LJ 456 (SC)

[33] State of Orissa v Venkuri (1986) Cr LJ 439(Ori)

[34] Abdul Wahed Ankujee v State of West Bengal (2006) CHN 331

[35] Indian Penal Code 1860, s 414

[36] Emperor v Abdul Gani Bahaduri AIR 1926 Bom 71

[37] Hastimal v State of Gujarat (1975) Cr LJ 983(Guj)

[38] Indian Penal Code 1860, s 413

[39] BN Singh v State of Uttar Pradesh AIR 1960 All 754


  1. Criminal Misappropriation of Property: Overview
  2. Criminal Breach of Trust: Introduction, Essentials, Explanation