Once upon a time — say, last October — someone stole a significant amount of jewelry from a home in which he was working as a contractor. He drove directly from that home to a store that widely advertises that it purchases gold, jewelry, coins, and the like, and sold the jewelry. The store properly photographed the jewelry and the driver’s license of the thief.
Twenty days later, the thief was caught and the jewelry was located through the photograph taken of it by the store. But, consistent with both state and local law, the jewelry had already been melted down and both gold and diamonds sold as scrap. Some of it is easily replaceable; some of it was family heirlooms impossible to reproduce and of great sentimental value.
Most police departments in Connecticut believe that a buyer of precious metals has to hold the goods for 10 days after the purchase, and that’s what the police involved in the incident above thought. But clearly 10 days was not enough. Even the incredibly fast police work in this case was not fast enough to save the stolen goods.
Incredibly, last year the legislature made the situation worse. Public Act 13-255 amended Conn. Gen. Stat. 21-100, lowered the mandatory holding time to five days, and prohibited any local authority from altering that mandatory holding time.
A 10-day hold on the goods was not enough, and will almost never be enough, to permit their return to the rightful owner. Virtually no crime such as this could be solved and the stolen goods found in less than 10 days. If 10 days is not enough, five days is laughable. The five-day holding period guarantees that establishments that buy goods without proof of their legal ownership may operate confident that they will almost never have to return goods to their rightful owner.
It is true that if stolen goods are found in such establishments, they will be taken by the police and the store will lose the amount they paid the seller/thief. But whose rights are important here? Aren’t the rights of the jewelry owner, from whom the goods were stolen, the most important? Shouldn’t the police have enough time to solve the crime, find the stolen goods, and return them to their rightful owner? Some sales of precious metals are perfectly legitimate, but it has to be realized that some are not. The law that imposes only a five-day waiting period for holding precious metals clearly recognizes that some of these sales are not legitimate and operates to protect the buyer of the suspect goods.
Dealers in precious metals will tell you that the short waiting time is necessary to protect them from fluctuating gold prices. That doesn’t hold up as a good reason for the shorter holding period. If such businesses are concerned about changes in gold prices, they can protect themselves by paying less for the goods. Their business model is within their control. Again, the equities of the situation favor facilitating the return of stolen goods to rightful owners, not the protection of businesses that choose to purchase suspect goods.
This is a law that needs to be changed. The legislature should consider the equities of this situation and come down on the side of people victimized by theft and the law enforcement agencies that work to help them. The current law benefits those who choose to run a risky business, doing so at the expense of those from whom goods are stolen.
We urge the legislature to revisit PA 13-255, now codified as Connecticut General Statutes 21-100, and change the holding time for purchases of precious metals to 30 days. Give victims of theft a chance to recover what is rightfully theirs and help police departments do their job.
Perhaps it is worth mentioning that the thief mentioned above had three previous convictions for exactly the same kind of theft, he sold all the stolen jewelry to precious metal dealers, and none of it was recovered. •