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For Colorado's stolen property statute, Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-4-405 (2006), to apply, the owner of the property must prove that the taker committed acts constituting at least one of the statutory crimes listed within the statute. However, the statute itself does not define theft. Because the stolen property statute is contained in the Colorado Criminal Code, terms contained in that statute may be defined within the scheme of the statutory framework. The criminal code defines theft as knowingly obtaining or exercising control over anything of value of another without authorization, or by threat or deception, and intending to deprive the other person permanently of the use or benefit of the thing of value. Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-4-401(1)(a) (2006).
Kenneth James West relinquished his car in exchange for a cashier's check that appeared valid, but which thereafter proved to be a worthless counterfeit. When he later located the car in the possession of a subsequent purchaser, Tammy Roberts, West sued to recover the car under Colorado's stolen property statute, Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-4-405. However, the trial court found that § 18-4-405 did not apply to situations, like this case, in which an owner voluntarily relinquishes the property, even if he is defrauded into doing so. Instead, the trial court applied Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) § 2-403, as enacted in Colorado as Colo. Rev. Stat. § 4-2-403 (2006). The trial court found that the UCC provision entitled Roberts, as a good faith purchaser for value, to retain ownership of the car. On appeal, the district court, acting as an appellate court, upheld the trial court's decision. West sought further appellate review.
Can West recover the car under Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-4-405 (2006)?
The Supreme Court of Colorado concluded that Roberts, as a good faith purchaser for value, obtained good title to the car pursuant to Colo. Rev. Stat. § 4-2-403 (2006) of the Uniform Commercial Code, and that § 4-2-403 prevailed over the stolen property statute. West’s transfer of the car and its title in exchange for the worthless cashier's check constituted a voluntary transaction that was subject to § 4-2-403(1). Because the third party obtained the car under a transaction of purchase, he obtained voidable title to the car even though the delivery was procured through fraud. A determination that West was entitled to recover the car would have been a determination that Roberts, another innocent party, would have to relinquish a vehicle that she had purchased in good faith. West was better positioned to take precautions to prevent loss than Roberts. West could have insisted upon cash or ensured that the check would clear before relinquishing the car and title. To place the onus on a good faith purchaser to fully investigate every purchase in order to determine whether it originated in fraud would unduly burden trade.