In this post, I am going to explain California’s law on receiving stolen property.
In some circumstances, you can be charged with this crime even if you did not know the items were stolen.
So if you’re concerned you may have received stolen property this list is for you.
- What is The Legal Definition of Receiving Stolen Property?
- What Is Considered Receiving?
- What Is Considered Acquiring Stolen Property?
- What Is The Element Of Awareness?
- Is There Potential Criminal Liability For Business Owners
- Penalties & Sentencing For PC 496
- Legal Defenses For Receiving Stoeln Property
- Expungement For Receiving Stolen Property
- Immigration Consequences
1. What is The Legal Definition of Receiving Stolen Property?
Penal Code 496(a) pc – California’s receiving stolen property law is a criminal offense so long as you knew the property in your possession was stolen or you had reason to know of its origin1.
Receiving stolen property, is more than mere possession.
The elements of the crime2 or what the District Attorney must prove beyond a reasonable doubt to convict you under PC 496 are:
- You bought, sold, received3, concealed4, withheld from the owner, or helped someone in these acts, such property that had been stolen5 or extorted6 from someone and,
- When these acts were done, you had knowledge that the goods were stolen or obtained by extortion and,
- You knew7 the property was in your possession or presence8
Let’s take a look at these elements individually to understand them.
2. What Is Considered Receiving?
You receive property when you possess it or at least have control over it.
Under this code section, more than one person can have possession of the stolen goods.
You can be charged with receiving property if you enjoyed its benefits even if you did not steal it or did not buy it or borrow it or have it given to you.
Riding in a stolen car that you knew was stolen can be enough if you failed to exit the car once you learned it was stolen and continued to derive some benefit from being in it.
You also may receive stolen property by deriving benefits from the money that was stolen by another person so long as you knew it was stolen.
3. What Is Considered Acquiring Stolen Property?
Property is stolen by different means. You can trick someone into giving it to you, use false pretenses to acquire it, rob someone or burglarize a home or other building.
Another method is by embezzlement where persons in a position of trust misappropriate funds entrusted to them for safekeeping for their own benefit.
Extortion is found under PC 518 and is the obtaining of property, usually money, with the consent of the owner but through coercion or the threat of physical harm to the owner or another person or by instilling fear in the owner of such threats.
4. What Is The Element Of Awareness?
To be successfully prosecuted, the DA must prove you knew the stolen property was on your person, home, car or under your control.
It is possible that someone asked you to hold or deliver a package and you were unaware of its contents and had no reason to know that whatever was inside was stolen.
5. Is There Potential Criminal Liability For Business Owners Under Penal Code 496?
There are people who are in the business of buying or collecting the property of others, usually for resale.
- Vendors at swap meets,
- Dealers of second-hand metals or materials, or
- Persons buying, selling, or receiving electronic equipment or vehicles.
PC 496 can hold these individuals criminally liable if they meet these criteria:
- These individuals acquired the property under circumstances where they should have made reasonable inquiries into whether the seller was the lawful owner or had the legal right to sell the property9, and,
- The individual failed to make the inquiry or it was a cursory one10
Business Owners Are Required To Do Due Diligence
If you are in the business of collecting goods or junk metals11 or even second-hand books12, then you must do your due diligence before buying or otherwise acquiring the property.
If there are suspicious circumstances that the seller cannot reasonably explain, then obtaining the property can expose the vendor to criminal penalties.
How Should Suspicious Situations Be Handled?
For example, if a teenager is in possession of high-quality jewelry or loose diamonds and says his uncle gave it to him to sell to you, then you have to contact the uncle and receive other proof that these items were legitimately owned by the uncle and that the teen had permission to sell it.
Are You Charged With Multiple Counts For Each Piece Of Stolen Property Received?
You face multiple counts of receiving stolen property for each separate occasion that you receive stolen goods.
However, if you received multiple stolen items in one single occasion then it is considered one offense of receiving stolen property13.
6. Penalties & Sentencing For PC 496
Receiving stolen property is a “wobbler” offense so that you may be charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony unless the subject property is valued at $950 or less.
If so, you may only be charged with a misdemeanor14.
Stolen property valued in excess of $950 can subject you to either a felony or misdemeanor depending on the individual facts and circumstances of the case and your criminal history.
Additionally, you may not be charged with recieving stolen property and the theft of the same property14.
|Fine||Up to $1000||Up to $10,000|
|Probation||Summary or informal probation||Formal Probation|
|Jail||Up to one year in county jail||6 months, 2 or 3 years in county jail|
The law also provides that the victim may sue you for damages along with costs and attorney’s fees.
Is Penal Code 496(a) Receiving Stolen Property Eligible for Prop 47?
Yes, Proposition 47 amended Penal Code section 496(a) so that receiving stolen property qualifies if the value does not exceed $950.
Is Penal Code 496(d) Receiving a Stolen Vehicle Eligible for Prop 47?
Yes, violations of penal code 496(d) are eligible for Proposition 47 if the value of the vehicle does not exceed $95015.
7. Legal Defenses For Receiving Stoeln Property
Defenses to receiving stolen property usually concern a showing that the prosecution lacks sufficient proof in any of the elements of the offense, including:
You Lacked Knowledge That The Property Was Stolen
Even if the goods you purchased lacked a serial number or the price was well below market value, this does not by itself constitute knowledge it was stolen.
For instance, if you asked the seller where he obtained the goods or why it was so cheap and the explanation was plausible, then the trier-of-fact may determine that the prosecution did not sustain its burden of proof.
Your Intent Was Innocent
This defense is dependent on your intent when you received the stolen property.
If you can show you intended to return the stolen property to the rightful owner or to the police when you gained possession of the property, then you lacked criminal intent16.
If you formed the intent later, meaning at the time you received the stolen property you intended to keep it but then had a change of heart, or you did intend to return it but then kept it, this defense will fail.
You would have to demonstrate what steps you promptly took to return the property or to alert the police. If you waited several days before doing anything, you might have a difficult time convincing the trier-of-fact of your innocent intent when you received the property.
Is Intoxication A Defense?
Sometimes defendants will argue that they received the property while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Generally, intoxication or being under the influence is not a defense but if you could show other circumstances that were present at the time, then it might show that you lacked knowledge that the property was stolen.
For instance, if you were at a large party with alcohol and you had been drinking heavily when someone offered you a Rolex watch for $200 and you purchased it.
The prosecution may have a difficult time showing that you had the requisite knowledge that the item was stolen or had the intent to receive stolen property17.
8. Expungement For Receiving Stolen Property
PC 496 is a “wobbler” offense. If your conviction was a misdemeanor, you qualify for an expungement of your record under Penal Code 1203.4.
An expungement does not totally erase your record though it does deny to the general public access to your record if a criminal background check is performed. A landlord or private employer will not see any record of arrest or conviction if it has been expunged.
A misdemeanor conviction does not take away any of your civil rights but employers, landlords, and some schools may still consider it in whether you get hired, promoted enrolled in school, or obtain a lease to rent an apartment.
Felony convictions may also be expunged provided that you did not serve any time in state prison.
PC 496 does not provide for any time in state prison. Accordingly, your conviction should qualify it for expungement regardless if you were convicted of a felony or misdemeanor and you also meet these other conditions:
- Completed all terms and conditions of your probation
- Have no criminal charges pending
- You have not committed any offenses since you completed probation
If your conviction was a felony under PC 496, you can petition the court to reduce it to a misdemeanor under PC 17(b)(3) before expunging it since it is a “wobbler.” This will allow your Second Amendment right to own or possess a firearm to be reinstated.
All documents regarding the expungement must be served on the DA and probation department at least 15 court days before the hearing to give them an opportunity to contest it.
The DA or probation office will not challenge your petition unless you do not meet all the conditions listed herein.
9. Immigration Consequences
Should you not be a US citizen, you face serious immigration consequences including deportation if you are convicted under PC 496 since it is considered a crime of moral turpitude and a deportable offense.
If you were convicted and left the US, you could be prevented from reentering. If you are already here, it could be an obstacle to getting a green card, becoming naturalized, or otherwise gaining legal immigration status.
You may be able to obtain relief with the efforts of an experienced immigration attorney who challenges removal proceedings if you qualify for deferred action, adjustment of status, or under temporary protected status.
You may also be eligible for asylum or protection under The United Nations Convention Against Torture.
Next Steps If You Need Help
If you have been arrested and would like to learn more about how attorneys charge.
If you want to understand why its important to have an attorney represent you.
If you would like to discuss a pending case with an attorney contact the Aizman Law Firm at 818-351-9555 for a free confidential consultation.
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- California Penal Code 496(a) pc – Receiving stolen property – 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. However, if the value of the property does not exceed nine hundred fifty dollars ($950), the offense shall be a misdemeanor, punishable only by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, if such person has no prior convictions for an offense specified in clause (iv) of subparagraph (C) of paragraph (2) of subdivision (e) of Section 667 or for an offense requiring registration pursuant to subdivision (c) of Section 290. [↩]
- Elements. Pen. Code, § 496(a); People v. Land (1994) 30 Cal.App.4th 220,223 [35 Cal.Rptr.2d 544]. [↩]
- CALCRIM 1750 (2017)- “To receive property means to take possession and control of it. Mere/presence near or access to the property is not enough.] [Two or more people can possess the property at the same time.] [A person does not have to actually hold or touch something to possess it. It is enough if the person has [control over it] [or] [the right to control it], either personally or through another person.]” [↩]
- Concealment. Williams v. Superior Court (1978) 81 Cal.App.3d 330, 343–344 [146 Cal.Rptr. 311]. [↩]
- Stolen Property. People v. Kunkin (1973) 9 Cal.3d 245, 250 [107 Cal.Rptr.184, 507 P.2d 1392] [theft]; see, e.g., People v. Candiotto (1960) 183 Cal.App.2d 348, 349 [6 Cal.Rptr. 876] [burglary]; People v. Siegfried (1967) 249 Cal.App.2d 489, 493 [57 Cal.Rptr. 423] [robbery] [↩]
- Extortion Defined. Penal Code 518 (Extortion is the obtaining of property from another, with his consent, or the obtaining of an official act of a public officer, induced by a wrongful use of force or fear, or under color of official right. [↩]
- Knowledge Element. People v. Reyes (1997) 52 Cal.App.4th 975, 985 [61 Cal.Rptr.2d 39] [↩]
- Possession and Control. People v. Land (1994) 30 Cal.App.4th 220, 223–224 [35 Cal.Rptr.2d 544]; People v. Zyduck (1969) 270 Cal.App.2d 334, 336 [75 Cal.Rptr. 616]; see People v. Gatlin (1989) 209 Cal.App.3d 31, 44–45 [257 Cal.Rptr. 171] [constructive possession means knowingly having the right of control over the property directly or through another]; People v. Scott 108 Cal.App.2d 231, 234 [238 P.2d 659] [two or more persons may jointly possess property]. [↩]
- California Penal Code 496(b) pc – Every swap meet vendor, as defined in Section 21661 of the Business and Professions Code, and every person whose principal business is dealing in, or collecting, merchandise or personal property, and every agent, employee, or representative of that person, who buys or receives any property of a value in excess of nine hundred fifty dollars ($950) that has been stolen or obtained in any manner constituting theft or extortion, under circumstances that should cause the person, agent, employee, or representative to make reasonable inquiry to ascertain that the person from whom the property was bought or received had the legal right to sell or deliver it, without making a reasonable inquiry, shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail for not more than one year, or imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170. Every swap meet vendor, as defined in Section 21661 of the Business and Professions Code, and every person whose principal business is dealing in, or collecting, merchandise or personal property, and every agent, employee, or representative of that person, who buys or receives any property of a value of nine hundred fifty dollars ($950) or less that has been stolen or obtained in any manner constituting theft or extortion, under circumstances that should cause the person, agent, employee, or representative to make a reasonable inquiry to ascertain that the person from whom the property was bought or received had the legal right to sell or deliver it, without making a reasonable inquiry, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor. [↩]
- See Same: California Penal Code 496(b). Receiving stolen property [↩]
- California Penal Code 496(a) pc – Every person who is a dealer in or collector of junk, metals, or secondhand materials, or the agent, employee, or representative of such dealer or collector, and who buys or receives any wire, cable, copper, lead, solder, mercury, iron, or brass which he or she knows or reasonably should know is ordinarily used by or ordinarily belongs to a railroad or other transportation, telephone, telegraph, gas, water, or electric light company, or a county, city, city and county, or other political subdivision of this state engaged in furnishing public utility service, without using due diligence to ascertain that the person selling or delivering the same has a legal right to do so, is guilty of criminally receiving that property, and shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail for not more than one year, or by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 , or by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both that fine and imprisonment. [↩]
- California Penal Code 496(b) [misdemeanors] [↩]
- CALCRIM 1750 “A defendant who receives more than one item of stolen property on a single occasion commits one offense of receiving stolen property” (People v. Lyons (1958) 50 Cal.2d 245, 275 [324 P.2d 556]. [↩]
- California Penal Code 496(a) PC – Receiving Stolen Property [↩] [↩]
- People v. Williams (2018) 23 CA5th 641 [↩]
- “A defendant charged with receiving stolen property can rely on the affirmative defense that he intended to return the stolen property at the time that he obtained possession of it.” (People v. Dishman (1982) 128 CA3d 717, 721.) “As is true of all affirmative defenses relating to the negation of an element of the offense, the defendant has the burden to present substantial evidence in support of the defense.” (See People v. Figueroa (1986) 41 C3d 714, 721.;[CALJIC 14.66] [↩]
- CALCRIM 1750 – “Receiving stolen property is a general intent crime, one element of the offense is knowledge that the property was stolen, which is a speciﬁc mental state. With regard to the element of knowledge, receiving stolen property is a “speciﬁc intent crime” as that term is used in Penal Code sections 29.4(b) and 28(a). People v. Reyes (1997) 52 Cal.App.4th 975, 985 [61 Cal.Rptr.2d 39].) Therefore, the defendant should have the opportunity to introduce evidence and request instructions regarding the lack of requisite knowledge.” [↩]