Reset is the dishonest possession of goods obtained by another, by way of theft, robbery, fraud or embezzlement, in the knowledge that they were obtained that way.
Reset is also being privy to the retention of dishonestly obtained property.
Actus Reus – Possession
More detail on the legal concept of possession is available here.
You don’t have to personally handle the stolen goods to be considered “in possession” of them. If you know that stolen goods are being stored in your house or garage, you are held to be in possession of them.
Similarly, it doesn’t matter whether you received the goods from the original thief/fraudster, or whether they came to you via a “fence”, or intermediary.
Actus Reus – “being privy”
Even if you don’t have possession of the items, you can be guilty of reset if you know that a third party is in possession of goods stolen from someone else, and actively feign ignorance when asked. This is much less common.
Mens Rea – Knowledge & Dishonesty
This is generally where it gets more complicated. How do you know that something’s been stolen?
An obvious example would be: you saw the thief stealing it. Alternatively, the thief may have told you that he/she stole whatever it is.
Most of the time, though, there will not be evidence of the above. It is very difficult to prove what someone else was thinking at any given time. As such, guilty knowledge is an objective question based on the facts and circumstances of the accused’s possession of the property in question.
For example, say you’re browsing Gumtree, and see a fancy road bike for sale. You recognise that the bike is ordinarily worth £2,000, but it is listed for sale for £20. You go round to view the bike. The “owner” lives in temporary homeless accommodation, and – with the best will in the world – doesn’t appear to be the sort of person who would ordinarily own a £2000 bike. They are evasive as to how they obtained the bike in the first place. In these circumstances, you could probably conclude that the bike has been stolen by the “owner”. All of the previously-listed factors paint a clear picture, and “turning a blind eye to the obvious” is enough to imply guilty knowledge. “Is it too good to be true?” is a good question to bear in mind.
Other factors that might be relevant (but these aren’t exhaustive), are:
- the goods being widely reported in the press as having been stolen
- the goods being offered for sale in a pub
- the seller being a known thief
- evidence that identification marks have been tampered with / removed
You can guilty of reset if you obtain property in good faith, find out later that it was stolen, and keep it regardless.
Reset is an implied alternative charge to theft. In other words, if you’re charged with theft, but there is not enough evidence to conclude that you actually stole the property yourself, you can still be convicted of knowingly being in possession of stolen goods.