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From the TV series Better Call Saul (S1E7 - Bingo) main character Jimmy McGill is involved in a case wherein a client of his, Craig Kettleman, stands accused of stealing 1.6 million dollars.

A crime which the client truly did commit. Later, Jimmy orchestrates the theft of the money from their client's home and has it returned to the District Attorney. Jimmy blackmails his client saying that "criminals have no recourse" when it comes to theft.

The money his client is accused of stealing was, itself, stolen from them. What can their client do in this circumstance?

Craig Kettleman is accused of stealing the money but has not been convicted of the crime. Because of these circumstances does that mean Craig would be able to inform the police of the theft without undue legal repercussions associated with announcing his possession of a suspicious amount of money?

Filing a police report would surely be unwise, but does would involving the police put Craig in as much legal jeopardy as threatened in the show?

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  • At the risk of being pedantic if you steal something it is NOT yours. The very definition of stealing something is taking something that is not yours. Your title is in essence self-refuting
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Jun 8, 2022 at 16:17
  • The law can be surprising sometimes, I thought this to be an interesting question. Additionally - while the current answers haven't mentioned this - in my example the money is alleged to be stolen, but Craig hasn't been convicted of the theft yet.
    – PausePause
    Commented Jun 8, 2022 at 16:25
  • There was at least one case in the USA where a drug buyer got ripped off and went to the police. Police arrested both. So he had recourse but obviously should have thought about the consequences.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Feb 4, 2023 at 8:10

3 Answers 3

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Do criminals really "have no recourse" if their ill-gotten property is stolen by a third party?

Basically yes.

At sentencing, they can argue that restitution or fines should be limited because the money was in turn stolen from them and they don't have it.

For example, I once had a client who was the sole heir to the estate of someone who had a substantial amount of illegal drugs in their possession at the time of the decedent's death (worth perhaps $100,000 USD), but the illegal drugs were stolen after the death of the decedent by someone known to my client. There was no legal way for my client to gain possession that stolen property or its worth.

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    Thanks for the swift answer! I'll wait a short while before formally marking it as accepted
    – PausePause
    Commented Jun 6, 2022 at 21:33
  • would be a very interesting case if the next of kin were to receive the illegal drugs from the inheritance and then got arrested for possession of those drugs... Which I can totally see happen.
    – jwenting
    Commented Jun 7, 2022 at 6:01
  • I suppose there were legal ways to make the thief lose the drugs, but not while accepting bad consequences for yourself.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Feb 4, 2023 at 8:14
  • Does this answer also apply to legitimately owned properties that were damaged or stolen when the illicit goods were also lost? Like if you own your car, and you had property you stole in it, and your car was stolen, do you have "basically" no recourse for recovery of the car? Presumably you are still on the line for the stolen goods, but supposing you were willing to face that would the car still be lost to you? Commented Feb 4, 2023 at 19:59
  • @zibadawatimmy: yes and no. The major problem with criminals reporting crimes is that there is then an investigation which may turn up evidence that can be used against the criminal-reporter. If the car is found and it contains illicit goods (money, drugs, property, weapons, bodies), they will attempt to identify the goods and how they Hoyt into the vehicle. If that leads back to the criminal-reporter, then reporting the theft was probably a bad idea.
    – jmoreno
    Commented Feb 5, 2023 at 0:23
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Apply some logic: an item you steal isn't legally yours so if it is then stolen from you you still have no right to it.

Where it gets tricky is if you say steal a million dollar worth of jewelry, pawn it for a quarter million in cash, buy a Ferrari with that cash, and then the Ferrari gets stolen.

That'd depend on jurisdiction I guess. If the money used on the Ferrari can be traced back to the jewelry theft it may well be impounded and auctioned off if recovered to provide partial compensation to the original owner of the jewelry (or more likely their insurance company who by now will have paid out). That's most likely what would happen here. But it'd happen because property of the criminal gets impounded under criminal asset forfeiture, not as part of getting the criminal his car back.

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  • If you buy a million worth of illegal drugs with your legally owned money, do you own the drugs?
    – gnasher729
    Commented Feb 5, 2023 at 9:38
  • @gnasher729 irrelevant, regardless the legalities. You will be in possession of the drugs, which is a crime in and of itself, whether you are the legal owner or not.
    – jwenting
    Commented Feb 5, 2023 at 19:14
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The idea that "criminals have no recourse when it comes to theft." is at best overstated.

Yes, if the authorities know that something is stolen, they won't return it to the thief, but rather to the original owner (if they know who that is). Yes, by reporting a theft, a thief could draw unwelcome attention from law enforcement. But if the first theft is not known, neither of those applies.

Example

Let's say that Bob has a cache of money, which he got through unlawful activity, loansharking, for example. Now George steals this from, Bob. Bob does not report this to the police, for fear they would discover proof of his loansharking -- they already suspect him. Now let's say that Mark steals this same money from George. Can George safely report this theft? It depends. The police don't know that the money was stolen, because Bob didn't report the theft. The police may ask George where the money came from. Obviously, George won't say "I stole it." But suppose George says "It is the cash earnings from my tavern, "Bar None". If the police believe this, or at least can't disprove it, they will not be able to seize the money (if they can find it) and will eventually have to return it to George, if they can recover it from Mark. So, in a case like this. George does have some practical recourse. Of course now George may well have to pay taxes on the money.

Conclusion

If the thief thinks that the theft is not known to the authorities, and that the second theft can be reported without disclosing the first theft, the thief may choose to report it. If the thief is correct, there will have been effective recourse.

In strict legality, a thief is not entitled to any recourse, because a thief does not acquire valid title to what s/he steals. But the thief does not care about what is legal (s/he is a thief, after all). If a thief can abuse the system to get the stolen goods back from the second thief, so much the better, from the thief's point-of-view.

So it all depends on the details -- as so many things do.

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