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Virginia criminal defense- The risk of conviction for mere possession of recently stolen property

Virginia lawyer on risking a theft conviction for possessing recently stolen property

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In Virginia, possession of recently stolen property risks a conviction for stealing that property: “[P]roof of possession of recently stolen goods establishes a prima facie case that the defendant received [the stolen goods] with guilty knowledge, [and] the burden is cast upon him to go forward with evidence in explanation.” Covil v. Virginia, 268 Va. 692, 695 (2004).

Kenyatta Ferrell Jones  was unable to extricate himself from such a conviction after police caught him driving a vehicle that had been recently stolen. Jones v. Virginia, Record No. 0351-16-1 (Va. Ct. App., Feb. 14, 2017) (unpublished).  As the police approached, Jones’s passenger ran from the car (identified by the police but not caught at the time), and Jones was caught after Jones then tried running away as well.

At trial, Jones testified that his passenger, Clemons, told Jones the vehicle was borrowed, but that Clemons had not driver’s license, so Jones did Clemons a favor to drive it for him. Jones testified that Clemons grabbed the car keys and ran as the police approached, so Jones ran as well, thinking that something bad was amiss.

At Jones’s bench trial, the trial judge stated his disbelief that Jones was in innocent possession of the car, and added that the assertion that Clemons would not drive because of having no license was countered by Clemons’s (by the deceased) boldness at failing to appear when subpoenaed for a prior trial date. The judge convicted Jones even though there was no physical indicia that the car was stolen (for instance damage to the car, or a popped-out ignition switch).

Consequently, Jones was caught in a pickle at trial. Had he not testified, he would have been convicted for being in possession of a recently stolen car. He testified, and the judge not only disbelieved his testimony, but even considered the lack of likelihood that the passenger, Clemons, would have not been bold enough to drive unlicensed but was bold enough not to appear for a prior court date (where Clemons may not have appeared because maybe he was on his death bed, delayed, or without transportation).

The Virginia Court of Appeals affirmed Jones’s conviction. Jones.