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Media > Newsletters > Law Enforcement Bulletin > October 2014 > Proper Protocol (Sting Operation, Receiving Stolen Property): Young v. Owens

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Proper Protocol (Sting Operation, Receiving Stolen Property): Young v. Owens

Question: Do you have probable cause for a Receiving Stolen Property arrest warrant if it is based on a sting operation in which you didn’t tell the buyer the goods were stolen?
Quick Answer: Yes, but only if there is a reasonable non-verbal inference that the property was explicitly represented as stolen to the buyer—such as a seller’s offer of an unrealistically low price, goods in original packaging, or the presence of a store security feature on an item.
Young, et. al. v. Owens, et. al., Sixth Circuit, Southern District of Ohio, Aug. 15, 2014
Facts: The Colerain Township Police Department (CTPD) received information that a local second-hand store was receiving stolen property and one of its owners, Tyler Young, was being watched by two other police departments on suspicion of trafficking in stolen electronics. After several weeks of surveillance, CTPD set up a controlled sale using a confidential informant. Taking legitimate goods from the Home Depot, the informant sold Young unopened tools, some with store security devices, for less than a third of their retail value. The informant, however, did not explicitly say the merchandise was stolen. Based on this sting, CTPD obtained a search warrant for the second-hand store and Young’s residence. They found 23 items that were later claimed by owners as having been stolen. Young was arrested for receiving stolen property. The owners of the second-hand store s sued the CTPD police officers in federal court for illegal arrest.
Importance: This case turned on whether Young should have known the goods were stolen, even though the officers never explicitly said they were.  If you don’t explicitly tell the purchaser the property is stolen, they can raise the defense that they didn’t know they were buying stolen goods.  (R.C. 2913.51(B))  Here, although the informant did not say, “these goods are stolen.” the court looked at all of the factors — the unopened packages, the security tags, the well-below market sales — to determine the information gave a reasonable, nonverbal inference to Young that the goods were stolen. When performing a sting under R.C. 2913.51, it is much easier to say the words rather than rely on a court to interpret what knowledge the suspect actually had, especially when the suspect can claim they had no idea.
Keep in mind: This case was brought under Federal Law § 1983, which allows citizens to sue state actors who violate their civil rights while performing job duties for a government agency. Each day you perform your job through and under the law, you are a state actor. If a citizen believes you did not follow the law when performing your job, such as a search, seizure, or arrest — and that action deprives them of a civil right — they may bring an action against you in Federal Court. In many cases, your qualified immunity will be an absolute defense to this kind of claim.
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A not so “hot” pursuit: While on patrol in the early morning, you clock a driver going 50 mph in a 25 mph residential zone. Before you can activate your lights or turn your car around, the driver pulls into a driveway just to the rear of your vehicle. You then turn around and pull behind, blocking the car in the driveway. The driver gets out and starts to unload his car. You identify yourself and ask to speak with him about his speed. He agrees, but asks to first put his things on the front steps due to the snow. At this point, you notice slurred speech and believe he is under the influence. You go to your vehicle to run the plates. While waiting, you notice the driver ran up the front steps inside the house. You knock on the front door and the driver tells you to get a warrant. After discussion with a supervisor, you force entry into the home and arrest the driver. Does this warrantless entry fit within the hot pursuit exception? The court in Collins said no, determining the situation was neither hot nor a pursuit. Asking the driver to talk about speeding after he had entered his driveway, turned off his car, and was blocked by the police car was not “hot.” There was no foot chase or pursuit of the driver. Additionally, the officer had already identified the driver’s name, plates, and address, and the driver who later failed his OVI test, had stopped driving and was not causing an immediate threat of harm to the public. In this situation, there was time for the officer to obtain a warrant. City of Berea v. Joshua Collins, Eight Appellate District, Cuyahoga County, Sept. 4, 2014