What to do with stolen goods?
October 19, 2011 6:23 PM   Subscribe

Posting for a family of a friend, but involves past thefts so posting anonymously out of extreme caution. YANML, YANAL, etc. Adult person with mental health issues developed severe shoplifting habit. Intervention has been held. He HAS NOT been caught by police or stores as far as anyone knows. What should be done with the stolen goods?

Additional details:
- person is resistant to treatment and it may not be possible to get him to return items, also he may not recall where they are from
- no items over $5000, but numerous under $5000
- for various reasons, turning him over to the police is not an option (yet)
- current ideas are detroy/dispose of, or donate (many kids items)
- happy to return them anonymously, where possible, but only if that can be done safely
- person was eclectic in his targets, so if there are different suggestions for, e.g. big box store versus mom-and-pop store, please advise
- FWIW, person is in Ontario, Canada
I've seen previous questions on what to do with people with this problem, but we're specifically looking for what to do with the proceeds.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
From a risk perspective, I would donate anonymously. If you try to return goods to the stores that he is sure about, it could potentially cause problems. They'll be expecting you to want your money back, but then the no receipt issue... And are they in a perfect state with all tags on so that the stores could even resell them? I think it would just be simpler to donate them. Hopefully the stores carry insurance to cover such losses. At this point, donating to needy kids would at least put the items to good use.
posted by DoubleLune at 6:30 PM on October 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm sure the laws in Canada are different, but in the US getting involved in destroying the items would also be a crime, as would donating them. Destruction of evidence, accessory after the fact, receiving stolen goods, etc. Not a lawyer, but I bet it wouldn't be hard to come up with a slew of charges for the actual thief and anyone participating in his theft.

I'd have the family members with knowledge speak with a lawyer and find out your exposure. Then I would take his advice on what to do with the items.

The ethical thing would be to return them.
posted by cjorgensen at 6:54 PM on October 19, 2011 [7 favorites]

I think seeking legal advice is a good idea. I would also ask whoever is treating this person what they think should be done. My first instinct was to give them to whatever local organization does those baskets of gifts for people in dire straits at Christmas time, but I'd want to know whether, from a treatment point of view, that was going to give him some kind of Robin Hood complex, or set him back in his already precarious treatment.
posted by looli at 7:04 PM on October 19, 2011

Your region probably has a public health unit that includes mental health services. You can try calling them for advice. Also, all courts have duty counsel who can give limited free legal advice if you go in person. Another option is to contact CAMH and see what their advice may be.
posted by saucysault at 7:21 PM on October 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

- for various reasons, turning him over to the police is not an option (yet)

How could this ever NOT be an option? Doing anything else means you're knowingly protecting a criminal. I'm only familiar with the laws of the USA, but I imagine its probably a really bad idea to do that in Canada too. You're essentially asking how to help this person get away with multiple crimes and regardless of the mental health status of the person its the wrong thing to do.
posted by blaneyphoto at 7:28 PM on October 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Dont have anything to do with this. Messing with stolen property is a serious offense. You will open yourself up to all kinds of liability even if you donate the stuff. Talk to a lawyer about how to handle this with the lowest legal risk to everyone involved.
posted by twblalock at 7:29 PM on October 19, 2011 [6 favorites]

I can think of at least 3 crimes you may already have committed (at least in the states) theft by receiving, aiding and abetting a theft, obstuction of justice/hindering prosecution. Not that any of it would stick, but why even expose yourself to it? Talk to a lawyer ASAP who can help you return these items to the stores or to police. This is not legal advice.
posted by Happydaz at 7:55 PM on October 19, 2011

this is one of those askme questions that it would be unethical to answer directly. as others have said, you need a lawyer.
posted by facetious at 7:59 PM on October 19, 2011 [7 favorites]

There is the law, and there is the practicality of the situation. I would talk to a lawyer, but I would also lean heavily despite the risks to donating the goods to a charity. I would note the items and the value of said items. I would NOT take a tax deduction. I am struggling with what to tell the shoplifter. Donating them may be encouraging him.

One thought is also to have the lawyer negotiate a plea with the local DA that acknowledges the theft, but his record is wiped clean with successfully completing some treatment program. That would clean up the legal aspects of it, would get treatment for the offender and may serve as a wakeup call for the offender.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:11 PM on October 19, 2011

I wouldn't donate them...
maybe you could bag them with a note that says "stolen by mentally ill person"
and drop them off at a fire station? let the authorities figure out how to return things, while the family gets help for their relative...
posted by calgirl at 9:45 PM on October 19, 2011

Tell him that they have been destroyed - and then donate as much as you can.

You are definitely involved in criminal activity here, so you need to decide for yourself what to do as far as a lawyer - but I do disagree with the some of the sentiment above that it is unethical to not return the items or not go to the police. It is not the legal thing to do, but ethical? It is a huge assumption that legal framework of your country will deal with your mentally ill family member in a ethical way.
posted by Flood at 4:10 AM on October 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

Where I practice law, making restitution to victims is a defense and/or mitigating factor in the law of theft. So returning them (if you have a record/proof of it) could ultimately help your friend if he's ever prosecuted. See a lawyer to figure out how to go about it.
posted by jayder at 4:57 AM on October 20, 2011

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