Mere Possession Of Stolen Goods Not Culpable Offence: Supreme Court

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Mere possession of stolen goods is not enough to make it a culpable offence and the prosecution is required to prove the accused had the knowledge that it was a stolen property, the Supreme Court said on Wednesday.
A bench comprising Justices K M Joseph and Hrishikesh Roy set aside the conviction, a jail term of two years and a fine of ₹ 1,000 imposed on a man named Shiv Kumar for the offence of dishonestly receiving stolen property.

The bench dealt in detail the ingredients of section 411 of the Indian Penal Code which deals with the offence of dishonestly receiving stolen property and provides for the punishment of a jail term of either description for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.

“To establish that a person is dealing with stolen property, the ‘believe’ factor of the person is of stellar import. For successful prosecution, it is not enough to prove that the accused was either negligent or that he had a cause to think that the property was stolen, or that he failed to make enough inquiries to comprehend the nature of the goods procured by him.

“The initial possession of the goods in question may not be illegal but retaining those with the knowledge that it was stolen property, makes it culpable,” Justice Roy, writing the judgement, said.

Referring to the facts of the case, the bench said when it applied the legal proposition, it reached the inevitable conclusion that the prosecution has failed to establish that the convict had the knowledge that articles seized from his possession are stolen goods.

It was alleged that Shiv Kumar had received stolen articles, including some utensils, and had sold them in his own shop in Madhya Pradesh.

“The factum of selling utensils at a lower price cannot, by itself, lead to the conclusion that the appellant was aware of the theft of those articles. The essential ingredient of mens rea (criminal intention) is clearly not established for the charge under Section 411 of IPC,” it said.

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