Possession/receipt of stolen property requires having possession of stolen property that the defendant knows is stolen and knows that they are in possession. Constructive possession, which means having control or the right to control property, is sufficient. For example, having the keys to a stolen car is sufficient to be convicted of possession of stolen property even if that person is not in the vehicle. Property is considered stolen if it satisfies the elements of theft (see article on theft/larceny).
Knowledge of the status of the property being stolen is required for a conviction. It is also a question which is presented to a jury and therefore willful ignorance is not necessarily a good defense. This means that if a defendant buys a $500 television on a street corner for $50, it can be reasonably inferred that the television is most likely stolen and would be sufficient for a conviction. Knowledge under these types of circumstances would be judged by a reasonable person standard. It also allows for defenses of voluntary intoxication and mental disease, both of which would affect the ability of a defendant to “know” whether property is stolen.
Another defense specific to possession or receipt of stolen property is if the person receiving had the intent to turn it over to the rightful owner or to law enforcement. This defense is not available if the possessor/receiver of stolen property intended to use the property before returning it to its rightful owner or to law enforcement. So if a defendant took possession of a car they knew to be stolen, intending to return it to the rightful owner, but only after they ran their errands for the day, the defense would not be available. Again, the circumstances would be judged by a jury based on what is believed reasonable.
Elements, crimes and defenses vary from state to state and within the federal system. If you or someone you know is charged with any crime, as always, you should consult a local attorney, licensed to practice in your jurisdiction and preferably one practicing only criminal law.
You can always look for your local criminal attorney at http://www.crimelawyers.org/ or contact your state Bar association.