Receiving Stolen Property | California Penal Code 496 PC
In California, “Receiving Stolen Property” is a theft offense charged under Penal Code 496(a). If the value of the property is $950 or less, the prosecutor will charge you with a misdemeanor. However, if the property value exceeds $950, then the prosecutor holds discretion to charge you with either a felony or misdemeanor. The property amount is measured on its fair market value. Property includes, but is not limited to, clothing, money, computers, electronics, powers tools, etc. The following article will address 10 important things you should know about Receiving Stolen Property laws and defenses.
1. What is the Legal Definition of Receiving Stolen Property?
PC 496(a) provides: “Every person who buys or receives any property that has been stolen or that has been obtained in any manner constituting theft or extortion, knowing the property to be so stolen or obtained, or who conceals, sells, withholds, or aids in concealing, selling, or withholding any property from the owner, knowing the property to be so stolen or obtained, shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail for not more than one year, or imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170.”
2. What Must the Prosecutor Prove for Receiving Stolen Property?
According to CALCRIM 1750, in order to prove you’re guilty of receiving stolen property under PC 496(a), the prosecution must prove each of the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
1. You [bought, received, sold, aided in selling, concealed or withheld from its owner, aided in concealing or withholding from its owner] property that had been stolen or obtained by extortion;
2. When you [bought, received, sold, aided in selling, concealed or withheld from its owner, aided in concealing or withholding from its owner] the property, you knew the property had been stolen or obtained by extortion;
3. You had actual knowledge of the presence of the property.
3. What are the Defenses to Receiving of Stolen Property?
I. Defense: Lack of Knowledge of Stolen Property
The government must prove that you had actual knowledge that the property was obtained illegally – i.e., stolen or obtain via extortion. If you did not know the property was stolen or was illegally obtained, then you are not guilty of receiving stolen property. For instance, a colleague keeps a television in your garage for safe keeping without informing you how they obtained it. Another example may include you legitimately purchased an item from someone not knowing the property was stolen. Normally, the government is able to prove this element by your incriminating statement(s) to the police. Thus, it’s important to remain silent and give no statement to the police.
II. Defense: Lack of Knowledge of Property Presence
If you did not know you were in possession of the stolen property in question, then you cannot be convicted of this offense. For instance, you’re driving with friends in the car, and one of your friends is in possession of stolen money in their pocket they failed to disclose to anyone.
III. Defense: You were Not in Possession of the Property
This is usually the central issue and often litigated between defense lawyers and the government. Moreover, the government must prove you were “in possession” of the property. To be clear, the government does not need to show you had ownership, but instead, you were in actual possession or constructive possession. Constructive possession, although ill defined, means you controlled the property or had a “right to control” the property. For instance, you shared a bedroom with your spouse and they kept stolen merchandise in the closet.
IV. Defense: The Property is Not Stolen
The government must prove the property was actually stolen or obtained by means of extortion. Failure to do so will result in a case dismissal or an acquittal at trial. For instance, someone mistakenly reported and identified property in your possession to be stolen.
V. Defense: Illegal Search & Seizure
You have a constitutional right under the Fourth Amendment to be free from unreasonable government searches and seizures. If the physical evidence obtained against you (the stolen property) was illegally obtained by the police, the judge will order the evidence to be suppressed, and the government will be unable to proceed with their case against you. These violation can exist within defective search warrants, unlawful traffic stops, and searches requiring the presence of a warrant absent your consent or emergency circumstances.
VI. Defense: Miranda Right Violation
If you are subjected to custodial interrogation, law enforcement is required to admonish you of your Miranda rights. Failure to do so will result in the suppression of your incriminating statements to police. This may benefit you if the government is relying on your incriminating statements to prove you had knowledge the property was stolen or you knew of its presence.
VII. Defense: Falsely Accused
Unfortunately, false accusations do occur where your accuser’s motivations are known or unknown. If you’re being falsely accused, a full defense investigation must be conducted to discover and expose your accuser’s fabrications.
4. What is the Punishment?
The punishment for receiving stolen property will depend on whether you were convicted of the offense as a misdemeanor or felony. If convicted of this offense as a misdemeanor, you face up to 1 year in the county jail. A felony conviction consequently carries a sentencing range of 16 months, 2, or 3 years in county jail.
Other consequences may include: adverse immigration consequences, adverse effects on your ability to gain or maintain state licensing. The court will also impose restitution requiring you to pay for property damages or losses.
5. What are Examples of Receipt of Stolen Property?
• Driving your friend away from a robbery scene after they stole money from someone.
• Going into someone’s garage and taking their bicycle.
• Holding your friends backpack knowing it contains stolen baseball cards.
• Temporarily driving your friend’s stolen car.
6. When Should I Retain a Lawyer?
Retaining a Theft Crimes Defense Lawyer at the cases earliest juncture is the best approach to successful theft charge defense. The Law Offices of John D. Rogers will communicate with law enforcement on your behalf to ensure you do not make any incriminating statement. Additionally, Mr. Rogers will personally submit notices to business, organizations, and individuals to preserve any and/or all potential evidence in your favor. Preservation letters are always necessary because with the passage of time, crucial evidence is liable to be lost or destroyed. Furthermore, witnesses must be questioned by a defense investigator before their memories fade.
7. Submitting an Early Mitigation Package
Never count on law enforcement to conduct a thorough investigation. Indeed, it’s rare that police will collect or document evidence in your favor. In fact, the opposite is true. In all criminal cases, after the police investigate an offense, they draft a factual report which is subsequently forwarded to the prosecuting agency for review to decide whether formal charges should be filed against you. When appropriate, Mr. Rogers will submit a mitigation package consisting of additional evidence, character letters, witness statements, and perhaps your side of the story to ensure the prosecutor consider all the evidence in the case versus the one-sided arrest report favoring your guilt. Mr. Rogers has had success in getting cases rejected completely from prosecution. Time is of the essence, thus contact the Law Offices of John D. Rogers right away.
8. Reducing your Felony to a Misdemeanor
As noted earlier, receiving stolen property is a wobbler offense. Fortunately, if you suffer from a felony conviction for this offense, you may be eligible to reduce your felony to a misdemeanor pursuant to Penal Code 17(b) after successful completion of probation. If granted reduction, the felony will be reduced to a misdemeanor for “all purposes”. This carries as a full restoration of your rights, including your right to own a firearm. This remedy is not guaranteed, but instead is highly discretionary on the judge. Common factors the judge will consider before deciding reduction are:
• Your prior criminal history
• The sophistication or planning of your crime
• Whether you suffered any probation violations
• The reason(s) you’re seeking reduction – e.g., immigration, employment, etc.
9. Receiving Stolen Property Expungement
If you were granted and successfully completed probation, you may be eligible to expunge your record under Penal Code 1203.4. To obtain this remedy, you must be completed with probation and you cannot have any cases pending against you. If your expungement petition is granted, the court will dismiss the case against you and from that point forward, you will be released from all penalties and disabilities stemming from your conviction. This remedy has considerable benefits in the private employment sector. For more information about expunging your record, contact the Law Offices of John D. Rogers.
10. Free Criminal Defense Consultation
If you are facing receiving stolen property charges under PC 496(a), contact Criminal Defense Attorney John Rogers at the Law Offices of John D. Rogers for a free confidential consultation.