An Horry County police officer went above and beyond to help a boy get his stolen property back.

Officer Shellneil Whitman didn’t just find the 5-year-old boy’s Xbox, which was stolen during a burglary of his family’s home. She also bought it back from the pawn shop where it ended up – for $100 of her own money – and returned it to the grateful child.

It’s an uplifting story, an example of an officer living up to the “protect and serve” motto. But here’s the thing – neither the victim of a burglary nor the police officer who finds the stolen goods should have to pay $100, or any amount, to make things right.

Horry County’s own state Sen. Greg Hembree has proposed legislation that would make it easier for people in South Carolina to get their stolen property back from pawn shops, as well as create new incentives for pawn shop operators to make sure they aren’t buying stolen goods.

How Do I Know if My Stolen Items Are in a Pawn Shop?

How do police, or burglary victims, find stolen goods at pawn shops? It depends.

In 2015, Horry County passed a law that required shop owners to electronically report all sales transactions – a move that would have made it easier to track stolen goods. But, a year later, the state legislature passed a law saying that only the state – not county governments – can regulate the pawn shop industry.

In the case of the stolen Xbox, the boy’s mother had recorded the serial number, and Officer Whitman was able to use a national database to find that it had been sold to a pawn shop. But not everyone writes down the serial numbers of their belongings. And, of course, some belongings (such as jewelry) don’t have serial numbers.

So, many people have to drive around to dozens of pawn shops and hope they spot their stolen property.

Will the People Who Took My Stuff Be Charged?

If the stolen goods are found at a pawn shop, police are sometimes able to follow the paper trail from the pawn shop to the suspects. Current law requires that pawn shops get fingerprints from sellers, and there is paperwork to fill out.

Anyone who sells stolen goods to a pawn shop could be charged with burglary, if police believe they stole the property, or with receiving stolen goods if they didn’t steal it or if the police can’t prove that they stole it.

How Do I Get My Stolen Property Back from the Pawn Shop?

So, you’ve found your stolen property, and the police have a suspect. Now you can get your stuff back, right? Not so fast.

Under current SC law, you can get it back – if you’re willing to buy it. You might be able to get your money back later – if you file a lawsuit and a judge orders the person who took your stuff to pay you back or if the person is convicted and the court orders that they pay restitution.

So, pawn shops have little incentive to care if the goods they are buying are stolen – they will get paid for the goods whether some random customer buys them or the original owner finds them and pays to get them back.

What Would the New SC Pawn Shop Bill Change?

Hembree’s new bill would require a pawn shop that has bought stolen goods to return them to the owner at no cost. This creates a new incentive for pawn shops to make sure they aren’t buying stolen goods – doing so will cost them money, at least in the short term.  

The bill would also require anyone who is convicted of stealing property and selling it to a pawnshop to pay restitution to the pawn shop that returned the property to the rightful owner.

Finally, Hembree’s bill will allow counties and municipalities to create their own regulations, such as Horry County’s past attempt to require pawn shops to provide transaction records.

SC Criminal Defense Lawyers in Myrtle Beach, Conway, Columbia, and Charleston

If you have been charged with burglary or possession of stolen goods, call the Myrtle Beach criminal defense lawyers at Coastal Law today at (843) 488-5000 or fill out our online form to set up a free consultation to discuss your case.

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