Facing receiving stolen property charges comes as a shock to most people, especially if they were not aware that they possess any stolen item in their car or home. However, if the court charges you with this crime, you could end up with a felony conviction, which could limit your chances of accessing certain jobs and disqualify you from receiving certain government aid. Therefore, if you or you face receiving stolen property charges, you should reach out to a competent criminal attorney. The attorney will evaluate your case and determine the options available for your defense. At Koenig Law Office, we are always ready to help our clients obtain a fair judgment.
Receiving Stolen Property Under Penal Code 496
Receiving stolen property is a punishable offense under California Penal Code 496. Specifically, this law makes it a crime for any person to buy or receive stolen goods as a gift. You can only be guilty of receiving stolen property if you know that the property was stolen. Charges will also apply if you conceal property from the owner, despite knowing it is stolen. If the prosecutor accuses you of violating Penal Code 496, he/she must prove the following elements:
Possession And Control
The critical aspect in determining whether you are guilty of receiving stolen property is if you had control over the stolen property. The prosecutor can prove this by showing that you organized the stolen property delivery. Perhaps you had even set up a place and time for a buyer to view and pay for the stolen items.
You could face charges for receiving stolen property if the party who stole the property leaves it in a place you told them to put it. You could also be guilty of this offense if you act as an intermediary for the person who stole the property by setting up a buyer. You could also face charges under Penal Code 496 for being a passenger in a vehicle you knew had been stolen.
Receiving Of Stolen Property
In the United States, most jurisdictions have a broad definition of what is termed as ''stolen property''. Typically, this crime includes gaining the possession of any property by committing any enumerated property crimes under state law. For example, in California, you could be deemed to have stolen the property if you obtained it by theft, pretense, embezzlement, robbery, larceny, or burglary. Therefore, if you receive any property obtained through any of the means outlined above, you could face receiving stolen property charges.
Knowledge That The Property Was Stolen
The prosecutor must provide substantial evidence that you knew the property was stolen for you to face charges under Penal Code 496. However, the charges will not apply if you do not understand that the goods have been stolen or obtained illegally and without the owner's permission.
Intent To Permanently Deprive The Owner Of The Property
Under this element, the prosecutor must provide sufficient evidence showing that when you took possession of the stolen property, you intended to keep it permanently from the rightful owner. You cannot face charges for receiving stolen property if you only purchased the stolen goods to return them to the rightful owner.
Penalties For Receiving Stolen Property Charges
Often, prosecutors in California charge the violation of PC 496 as a wobbler offense. You could face misdemeanor or felony charges. If the prosecutor charges you with a misdemeanor, you could face the following penalties:
- A fine that does not exceed $1,000.
- Misdemeanor or summary probation.
- A jail term that does not exceed one year in jail.
If the prosecutor charges you with a felony, you could face the following penalties:
- A fine that does not exceed $10,000.
- Felony or formal probation.
- A jail term that does not exceed three years in jail.
The prosecutor can only charge a violation of Penal Code 496 as a misdemeanor if the total value of the property involved is $950 or less. Usually, you could face misdemeanor charges regardless of whether it is your first or subsequent offense.
You could face negative immigration consequences if the court convicts you of felony receiving stolen property. Violating Penal Code 496 is a crime involving moral turpitude. If you are guilty of this crime and you are a U.S. non-citizen, you could be marked as inadmissible into the United States. You could also be deported.
If the prosecutor charges you with receiving stolen property and the court convicts you of a felony, the conviction could negatively affect your gun rights. Under California law, you cannot own, possess, or buy a gun if you are a convicted felon.
However, you can receive an expungement upon a conviction of violating Penal Code 496. You will only qualify for this expungement if you complete probation. Additionally, if the court imposes a jail term on you, you must successfully serve the whole term.
The judge could still award you an expungement even if you violate the probation term. However, this will depend on the judge's discretion.
Defenses To Penal Code 496 Charges
You can contest receiving stolen property charges with various legal defenses. Some of the defenses you can use include:
Intent To Return
You could have received property despite knowing that it was stolen. However, you only took it intending to return it to the owner. In this case, you could use this fact as an affirmative defense against your charges. However, this intent can be hard to prove, particularly if the police arrest you immediately after receiving the stolen property. To prove this defense, you require the help of a competent criminal attorney. An attorney understands the best strategies to convict the judge that you intend to return the property to its rightful owner.
Pawnbrokers, swap meets, and people working or operating similar businesses must make reasonable inquiries into a seller's right to sell a specific item of personal property. If you made this inquiry but you still did not discover that the property was stolen, you cannot face receiving stolen property charges.
Right Of Ownership
Maybe you believe you are the rightful owner of the property you receive. Perhaps you think that the property was stolen from you. In this case, taking possession of it is not a crime. You can convince the court that you were not receiving stolen property but instead accepting it as the rightful owner.
No knowledge Of Possessing Stolen Property
Someone else could have placed the alleged stolen property on the premises without your knowledge. It could be your roommate, boyfriend, girlfriend, or any individual who gets you into trouble. The law enforcers could arrest and put you behind bars on this account. However, if you provide sufficient evidence that you did not know of the existence of the property, you could be acquitted of the charges.
Having No Knowledge Of The Property’s Status
Knowing the status of the property as stolen is one of the significant factors that could lead to a conviction. Unfortunately, prosecutors often build on what would, at times, seem to be flimsy grounds. For example, the prosecutor could allege that an item's meager price should raise red flags. However, if you successfully prove that you were not aware of the status of the property as stolen, the court could acquit you.
Under California law, while drunkenness is not a valid defense in most criminal cases, it could be under Penal Code 496. If you can provide evidence that you were intoxicated or drunk to the extent that you could not have known you were receiving stolen items, no unlawful intent can be ascribed to your actions.
In California, many criminal prosecutions are based solely on eyewitness testimony and the accusations of others. Prosecutors and police often use discretion when assigning charges. They could bring Penal Code 496 charges against you without substantial evidence. Another person could accuse you falsely of receiving stolen property for the following reasons:
- Misidentification based on prejudice, racism, or other reason.
- A mistaken but honest belief that you committed the crime.
- Sinister motives like greed, revenge, jealousy, or just plain meanness.
You should not face the burden of false criminal accusations alone. You must retain a skilled and experienced criminal defense attorney to help you navigate the legal system. Your attorney will conduct a thorough investigation to unearth exculpatory evidence. The attorney will also re-interview key witnesses to see if their statements remain consistent. He/she will also challenge the witness under the cross-examination. The judge could reduce or dismiss the charges against you if your attorney presents convincing evidence that you are a victim of false accusation.
Illegal Search And Seizure
You could challenge your charges if the police subjected you to an illegal search and seizure. For example, the police could have searched without a legal warrant signed by the judge or magistrate. This act is unconstitutional in the United States since it violates the Fourth Amendment, which protects people’s reasonable privacy.
Most criminal cases in California hinge on the evidence gathered during illegal searches. If the police arrest you following an unlawful search of your premises, you need to seek the services of a criminal defense attorney. The attorney will examine the details surrounding your arrest, including any searches and seizures of your property. The evidence obtained without a valid warrant is often inadmissible under California law. Your charges could be dismissed if your attorney proves that the police's evidence was obtained through illegal search and seizure.
Defenses revolving around the defendant’s mental health status are rare. Mental health defense is highly complicated because psychology is an intricate science. However, your attorney could raise this defense if you are accused of receiving stolen property. In addition, your attorney could do so if your mental ability is challenged due to a developmental disability and you cannot understand your surroundings.
If your attorney provides sufficient evidence indicating that you were mentally ill while receiving the property, you could be acquitted of your charges.
You will not face receiving stolen property charges if the prosecutor has already charged you with theft for stealing the property.
Receiving Stolen Property And Theft Under California Law
The crime of receiving stolen property is outlined under Penal Code 496 of California law. You could face charges for this offense if you buy or otherwise take possession of property despite being aware it is stolen. Generally, if the court charges you with this crime, it cannot simultaneously charge you with a theft crime.
However, there is an exception in cases where you steal a motor vehicle and later are found driving it. In this case, you could face charges for receiving stolen property and California automobile theft charges according to Vehicle Code 10851. For the prosecutor to add Penal Code 496 charges, post-theft driving must exist.
Post-theft means you were not just driving the vehicle away from where you stole from the owner. It means you were driving the car as if you were its rightful owner. However, judges have not clarified the time it takes for the post-theft exception to apply. This exception will automatically apply if the police find you driving the vehicle several days later. The law is not clear whether you should have been driving the car just a few minutes, an hour, or a few hours from stealing it.
There are three offenses associated with receiving stolen property in California. They include:
Theft/Misappropriation Of Lost Property — Penal Code 485
It is a crime under Penal Code 485 of California law for anyone to misappropriate lost property. You could face charges under this statute if you come across another person's property and keep it despite having information about the owner. If the prosecutor charges you with violating Penal Code 485, he/she must that:
- You found lost property with clues identifying the rightful owner.
- You took the property for your use.
- You did not make reasonable efforts to find the rightful owner.
Prosecutors in California often charge a violation of PC 485 as a petty theft offense under PC 488 or a grand theft offense under PC 487. The prosecutor will charge the crime depending on the value of the property. You would face petty theft charges if the value of the property were $950 or less, and the penalties imposed include:
- A fine that does not exceed $1,000.
- A jail term that does not exceed six months in a county jail.
You will face grand theft charges if the property's value exceeds $950. In California, grand theft is a wobbler crime. Therefore, the prosecutor could charge you with a misdemeanor or a felony. You will face a jail term that does not exceed one year in a county jail for misdemeanor grand theft charges. You will face a jail term that does not exceed three if felony grand theft charges apply.
A charge under Penal Code 485 could adversely affect your gun rights in California. Convicted felons in California are prohibited from possessing or owning a gun.
The conviction could also lead to immigration consequences. Misappropriation of lost property in California is an offense of moral turpitude. If you are a U.S non-citizen, you could be marked as inadmissible in the U.S. or even deported from the U.S.
However, you can have your Penal Code 485 charges expunged. The expungement can only happen if you complete probation or a jail term.
On the other hand, you can challenge misappropriation charges with the following defenses:
- You are the rightful owner of the property.
- Reasonable efforts to locate the owner.
- No intent to keep the property.
Embezzlement — Penal Code 503
Embezzlement is defined under Penal Code 503 as ‘’the fraudulent misappropriation of property by an individual to whom the property is entrusted”. If the prosecutor accuses you of embezzlement, Penal Code 503 requires that he/she prove the following elements:
- Someone else entrusted their property to you.
- The person did so because he/she trusted you.
- You fraudulently converted or used the property for your benefit.
- You intended to deprive the person of its use.
The prosecutor does not need to prove that the property owner asked you to return the property.
In California, the crime of embezzlement is charged as grand theft under Penal Code 487 or petty theft under Penal Code 488. The prosecutor also charges this crime depending on the value and type of property stolen or misappropriated.
You could face grand theft charges if the property were worth more than $950, a vehicle, or a firearm. Grand theft is charged as a wobbler crime in California. You could face misdemeanor or felony charges. You could face a jail term that does not exceed one year in a county jail for misdemeanor grand theft charges. You could face a jail term that does not exceed three years for felony grand theft charges.
You could face misdemeanor petty theft charges if the property's value is $950 or less. The conviction could lead to a jail term that does not exceed six months in a county jail.
Several legal defenses are available for you if you face embezzlement charges in California. They include:
- No intent to deprive.
- Good faith belief in the right to the property.
- No fraudulent use.
- Coercion of a confession.
- Illegal search and seizure.
- Entrapment by the police.
Extortion — Penal Code 518
The crime of extortion is outlined under California Penal Code 518 as "compelling someone to hand over property or compelling a public officer to perform an official act" using force or threats. If the prosecutor charges you with extortion, he/she must prove the following elements:
- You threatened someone, for example, to expose a secret about them or accuse them of a crime.
- When making the threat, you intended to force the person into consenting to give you money or property.
- The person agreed to provide you with cash or property as a result of your threats.
- The person indeed gave you money or property.
Extortion crime is a specific intent crime whereby you must have the following:
- A desire to commit the crime.
- An intent to achieve a particular result.
In California, extortion is charged as a felony offense. You could face the following penalties:
- A fine that does not exceed $10,000.
- A jail term that does not exceed four years in a state prison.
You could face negative immigration consequences if the prosecutor convicts you of extortion. This crime is a crime of moral turpitude. If you are a U.S. non-citizen, you could be marked as inadmissible or face deportation.
A conviction under Penal Code 518 could make you lose your gun rights. You are not allowed to purchase, possess, or own a gun in California if you are convicted of a felony.
A victim of extortion can sue you in a civil court to recover the money paid to you. This is known as civil extortion. The victim needs to prove the following:
- You threatened them to obtain money or property.
- You knew the threat was wrong or illegal.
- The victim complied with your threat or gave you money or property.
The victim can use the following evidence in a civil lawsuit:
- Statements from witnesses that witnessed your actions.
- Video recordings, emails, texts, or voicemails that show your threat.
- Bank records show an exchange of money.
The victim can recover the following if they succeed in court:
- Punitive damages.
- The value of the money, property, or services paid to you.
You can raise a legal defense and challenge your extortion charges. Some of the defenses you could use include:
- The victim did consent to your actions.
- Falsely accusation.
- No use of force or threats.
Find A Bakersfield Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
Receiving stolen property is a serious offense. A conviction could lead to severe penalties. If you face receiving stolen property charges, you need a competent criminal defense attorney with a proven track record. At Koenig Law Office in Bakersfield, we have a team of attorneys with decades of experience handling all criminal law matters. Our attorneys will be happy to review your case and advise you on the best course of action. Contact us at 661-793-7222 to talk to one of our attorneys.