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People v. Jaffe

    Brief Fact Summary. The Defendant, Jaffe (Defendant), was convicted of attempting to receive stolen property, but challenged his conviction on the basis that the property – twenty yards of cloth – was not, in fact, stolen at the time he purchased it.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A person may not be convicted of attempting to commit a crime, if the crime itself, if completed, would not be a criminal offense.

    Facts. The Defendant sought to purchase what he believed was stolen property – twenty yards of cloth. In fact, the property had lost its character as “stolen” by the time it was offered to Defendant for purchase, having been restored to its rightful owner and made available to him through their agency. Though Defendant believed he was purchasing stolen property, his belief was in error.

    Issue. Is a Defendant who lawfully purchases property that he erroneously believes to be stolen guilty of an attempt to receive stolen property?

    Held. No. Judgment reversed.
    If Defendant’s purchase of the twenty yards of cloth had been affected, he would not have been guilty of any crime because the property offered to him was not, in fact, stolen. Defendant could not have been guilty of “knowingly” receiving stolen goods, as required under the statute, since “[n]o man can know that to be so which is not so in truth and in fact.” Accordingly, if that which Defendant intended to do would, if done, not have constituted a criminal offense, it cannot be a crime to attempt to do the same. The crime for which Defendant was convicted had three elements: the act, the intent, and the knowledge of an existing condition. Because defendant’s belief that the goods were stolen could not have amounted to the knowledge that they were stolen (as one cannot know something that is not in fact true), one of the elements of the crime cannot be established. The intent element is similarly not provable. “If the thing is not a crime, he does not intend to commit one whatever h
    e may erroneously suppose.”


    Discussion. In this case, the Defendant believes he is committing a crime, though in fact it is no crime at all. The case stands for the proposition that a person cannot be prosecuted for attempting to do an act that, had it actually been completed, would not have constituted a criminal offense.


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