California theft crimes prohibit individuals from unlawfully taking or stealing someone else’s property. Many people fail to understand that even buying, selling, receiving, or hiding stolen property is a serious offense that attracts severe consequences. Acquittal from these charges requires concrete defense strategies and competent legal counsel from a theft offense attorney.
At the Orange County Criminal Lawyer, we are well versed in cases concerning acquiring stolen property. Our attorneys have given a general view of receiving stolen property in this article.
Legal Definition of Receiving Stolen Property
California PC 496 prohibits people from buying, concealing, or acquiring property if they have knowledge the property is stolen. A violation of this statute happens when:
- You purchase or acquire property that has been obtained through theft
- You were aware that the property was a proceed of theft
Also, a violation of the law occurs if:
- You hide, sell, withhold, or help another person in these acts, like the property in question is stolen or acquired through extortion,
- You knew that the goods were acquired through extortion or theft
- You the property was in your possession or presence
Take note that you don’t have to succeed in doing any of these acts defined under this statute. An attempt alone is enough to earn you a sentence. Besides, you can face charges for aiding someone to conceal property obtained through theft or extortion.
Elements of California PC 496 Violation the Prosecutor Must Prove
Prosecutors often have an uphill task proving the elements of this crime because of insufficient evidence. In most cases, people who steal goods sell them at throwaway prices and for cash only. Additionally, if it’s a car or truck, the automobile’s VIN or serial number is removed, indicating it was stolen. Therefore, prosecutors find it challenging to prove a violation of PC 496 because of insufficient evidence. Discussed below are elements of receiving stolen goods that the prosecutor must prove:
You Received Property or Goods
As per PC 496a, receiving property means possessing or having control over it. Preferably, the theory doesn’t apply in all situations because a single property can belong to multiple individuals. However, the bottom line is that more than one person can possess stolen goods. Acquiring or receiving stolen goods can be constructive or physical possession. Constructive possession means you don’t need to be in immediate possession of the property. Instead, the prosecutor needs to prove you had control over the goods.
You could face charges for violating this law if you enjoyed the benefits of the stolen property, even if you were not part of stealing, buying, or borrowing the items or goods. An act like driving a stolen truck could result in these charges if you knew the car was stolen or obtained through extortion. Also, if you learned that the truck was stolen when you were already driving, you could still face these charges. The law requires that you exit the car once you realize that the auto is stolen. Continued deriving benefits from the stolen vehicle is a crime.
Similarly, you could face these charges if the prosecuting attorney can demonstrate that you enjoyed the benefits of stolen money or knew the money was theft.
The Property was Stolen or Acquired Through Extortion
Another element the prosecuting team needs to demonstrate is that the goods you received were stolen or obtained through extortion. Property under this law can be acquired through robbery or burglarizing a home or property. Besides, a person could acquire property through embezzlement, where they have been entrusted with funds for safeguarding and instead decide to misappropriate the funds for selfish gains.
Extortion is the other way one can steal property. It happens when you obtain a property with authority or approval from the owner but under duress or after using coercion, threats of physical harm, or instilling fear through threats.
If the prosecutor can demonstrate you obtained the property through any of the means described above or any other theft crime deemed stolen, you will be charged with a PC 496 violation.
You were Aware the Property was Stolen
The prosecutor or DA must also demonstrate the element of awareness. They must show that you, as the defendant, received goods that you knew were obtained through unscrupulous means. If someone asked you to conceal or deliver merchandise whose content you were unaware of or had no reason to know they were stolen, you have nothing to worry about because your case lacks awareness.
Typical Cases of Acquiring Stolen Goods
Some people are in the business of exchanging, purchasing or exchanging property for resale. These entities include:
- Vendors at swap meets
- Second-hand material dealers
- Individuals purchasing, selling, or obtaining electronics or vehicles
The individuals mentioned above expose their proprietors to a considerable risk of facing PC 496a violation charges, especially if it is proven:
- The moment the proprietor obtained the goods, they had an opportunity to inquire if the seller had legal rights to put on sale or was the rightful owner of the goods.
- He or she failed to inquire about the transaction, or it was a hasty one
The business owners mentioned above who deal with collection metals or goods, including second-hand books, must do due diligence before purchasing or otherwise obtaining property. Suppose, as a vendor, you realize the person selling you property cannot explain its source or ownership, acquiring stuff like that will expose you to criminal consequences.
The puzzle vendors face daily is how to handle suspicious situations if they present themselves. If, for instance, a teenager approaches you with an expensive electronic, claiming they have been sent by an adult relative to sell to you, then you should reach out to the relative. Doing so will give you evidence that the electronic was acquired by the relative legally and the teen under approval from the relative to sell it.
Keep in mind that you will face multiple counts if you receive stolen goods on different occasions. Every stolen item you acquire is treated separately from the other. However, if you receive numerous stolen goods on one occasion, it will be deemed a single offense.
Legal Consequences of Receiving Stolen Goods
A violation of California PC 496 is a wobbler that gives the DA the discretion to charge you with a misdemeanor or felony, based on factual circumstances of the case and your criminal record. To face charges under this statute, the property in question must be at least $950. If the amount is less, you won’t face these charges.
A misdemeanor conviction will result in the following consequences:
- No more than one thousand dollars court fines
- Informal or summary probation
- No more than 12 months custody in Orange County jail
A conviction for a felony charge is punishable by:
- Court fines of up to ten thousand dollars
- Formal or felony probation
- Six, twenty-four, or thirty-six months custody in jail
A conviction for obtaining stolen property can also result in additional consequences. These include:
- Changes to your immigration status
- Inability to maintain state-issued licenses or permits
- Restitution of the victims for the losses stemming from your actions
- Problems acquiring loan financing or credit
Note that you are eligible for Prop 47 under PC 496(a) and PC 496(d) if the stolen property’s is less than $950.
Receiving stolen goods is a crime of moral turpitude because it involves lying and deceit. Therefore, should you be an alien, you will be subject to severe immigration repercussions, including deportation.
If you end up with a conviction and leave the country, you might be barred from reentering. Suppose you are already within the country’s borders, it will be challenging to obtain a green card, gain legal immigration status, or acquire U.S. citizenship through naturalization. However, a conviction shouldn’t make you lose hope because if you enlist a competent immigration attorney’s services, you could do the following:
- Challenge the removal, if you are eligible for deferred action
- Adjustment of immigration status
Expunction for Receiving Stolen Property
As stated earlier, PC 496 is a wobbler. Suppose you are facing misdemeanor charges, you are eligible for an expunction as per PC 1203.4. An expungement is an excellent thing because it conceals your criminal record from the general public, although it doesn’t delete or clear the form entirely. After expunction, any person, whether an employer or landlord, tries to run background checks on your criminal history, will not find anything.
Remember that a misdemeanor offense in California never takes away your civil rights. However, learning institutions, employers, and landlords can deny you admission in their institution, deny you employment or lease to rent an apartment.
Even if you have been sentenced for a felony, you could still be eligible for expunction, provided your sentence didn’t include custody in state prison. There is no provision for state imprisonment under PC 496. Regardless of the charge you were convicted for, whether a misdemeanor or felony, you are eligible for expunction. Additionally, you qualify for expungement if you meet the following conditions:
- Complete all the terms and conditions of probation
- Have zero pending criminal charges
- You have not engaged in the commission of any offense after completing probation
Suppose you were charged and sentenced for a felony PC 496 violation, you can still qualify for expungement. However, you must petition the court to lower the charges to a misdemeanor according to Penal Code 17 (b)(3) first. Doing so will allow will restore your Second Amendment rights to own or possess a firm.
All the forms relating to the expunction must be submitted to the local DA office and the probation department fifteen days before the court date. Doing so allows the prosecution the opportunity to challenge the expunction.
Possible Legal Defenses for California PC 496 Violation
Your defense attorney can present a variety of legal defenses to contest the charges of receipt of stolen goods. The various arguments include:
You Lacked Information or Knowledge the Property was Stolen
Remember, you can only be guilty as per this statute if you were aware the goods you possessed were stolen. If you lacked information that the property’s source was theft, your attorney could always use this as a defense. Often, the prosecutor infers awareness from what they believe are suspicious circumstances that do not indicate you knew the source of the property. Circumstantial evidence or speculations is not enough to prove knowledge.
The prosecutor will argue that you possessed goods that lacked serial numbers, identifying number, or you bought them at low prices. Although these assertions create suspicions on the property’s source, they don’t prove beyond reasonable certainty that you had the information about their origin.
You were not Aware the Goods were in your Possession
Another element that prosecutors must prove is the knowledge that the stolen goods were in your possession. If you didn’t know that the stolen property was in your car, on your person, or in your apartment, you can use it to contest the charges. You can argue that the stolen property found in your home or garage belonged to your roommates, and you didn’t know of its existence. Again, if you borrowed a stolen car without knowing, your attorney could still present this defense.
You Lacked or Had Innocent Intent
Recall that for the prosecutor to charge you with receipt of stolen property, he or she must show that you had information the goods were acquired through theft, you aided the stealing or had intentions of obtaining the same stolen goods. However, if you assert that you received the property with intentions to return it to the rightful owner or law enforcement, this demonstrates innocent intent or lack of criminal purposes.
Similarly, your attorney can explain the steps you took to take back the property or inform the police. If you waited for an extended time before taking any steps, it would be a problem to prove to the court that you intended to return the property you obtained.
Keep in mind that if you initially received the property without intentions to return it to the rightful owner but later changed your mind, this defense will not hold in court. The same case applies if you promise to return then stolen property to the owner but fail to keep your word.
You didn’t Own or Receive the Stolen Property
You may be charged with receipt of the stolen property where you decide to buy an item from a friend and then plan to pick it on a different day. However, before picking the item, you learn that it is stolen and dismiss the purchase agreement. If your charges stemmed from a similar incident, you could argue that you didn’t own the item in question or lacked control over it, which makes you innocent of any theft crime.
The Property in Questions wasn’t Stolen
The prosecutor must demonstrate that the property was stolen and you, as the defendant, claimed its ownership. Without this, the charges should be dropped. You could assert that the alleged property is still in the owner’s possession; hence you didn’t steal it.
Claim of Right
You can argue that you legally received or obtained the property. However, for this defense to work, it must be presented clearly by a competent attorney. The court will try to establish if you were aware the goods were stolen. In case you knew, it will be clear you illegally acquired the property. However, if you can demonstrate you obtained the property legally and did due diligence to establish its source, you can present the “claim of right” defense.
You were Intoxicated
Generally, intoxication is not a defense for receipt of stolen goods charges. However, you could use it to demonstrate that you lacked information that the goods were stolen. Your attorney can claim that when you received the property, you were intoxicated by drugs or alcohol.
Other defenses you can present to contest the charges include arguing that the property in question was acquired through an illegal search, making the evidence inadmissible. You could also assert that your Miranda rights were violated, victim of false allegations, or you were not in the right mental or health state at the time of receiving the stolen goods.
It’s worth noting that the defense that will be applied in your case depends on the circumstances. For this reason, it’s critical to discuss your case with a competent criminal defense attorney so that you can find the right defenses for your case.
The prosecution can charge many cases alongside or in place of receiving stolen property. These charges include:
Petty and Grand Theft
Petty and grand theft are distinct offenses outlined under PC 488 and 487, respectively. These offenses depend on the value of the property taken. If the property in question is less than $950, the violation is deemed petty theft. On the other hand, if the property value is $950 or more, the crime is treated as grand theft. Theft under these statutes is outlined as obtaining someone else’s property without permission or intent to deprive the owner of the property it benefits.
Often, elements of theft offenses are related to receiving stolen property, which is why prosecutors charge these offenses together. If the prosecutor proves these elements, you can end up with a conviction for either PC 496 violation or petty or grand theft, but not both offenses.
Embezzlement (PC 503)
According to PC 503, it is a crime for a person who has been entrusted with funds or property to misappropriate them for personal gains without consent or approval. The offense is a wobbler. The decision to charge you with a felony or a misdeemeanor depends on the value of property or money misappropriated. If the embezzled property or funds is no more than $950, it will be filed as a misdemeanor. Suppose the amount is at least $950, the prosecutor will file it as a felony, and upon conviction, you will face up to three years of custody in jail.
Extortion under California PC 518
According to PC 518, the crime of extortion is committed when you utilize force, coercion, or fear to acquire money or property from another person. The offense is accomplished if you use power or fear to do the following:
- Unlawfully injure someone else’s or property
- Accusing a person or their close family or relative if a criminal offense
- Exposing or ascribing to someone else of disgrace or crime
- Revealing a secret affecting someone or their family or relative
- Reporting another person’s immigration status or alleged immigration status
The crime of extortion is a wobbler. When charged as a misdemeanor, you will be subject to no more than 12 months of jail custody upon conviction. As a felony, the crime carries court fines of up to ten thousand dollars plus no more than thirty-six months in jail.
Keeping Stolen Property
PC 485 outlines theft or appropriation of stolen property. It makes it a crime for you to keep property when you are in a position of knowing the owner of the property and failed to take the initiative to find the owner. The offense transfers the burden of proof to you to find the owner.
It’s easy to confuse this appropriation of lost goods with receiving stolen property. However, the two are different because the elements of PC 485 depend on the fact that you failed to take the initiative to find the property owner. Therefore, if the aspect of not taking the initiative to return stolen goods to the rightful owner is present in your California PC 496 charges, the prosecution will file the two charges against you.
Find a Theft Crimes Attorney Near Me
California PC 496 is among the top mistaken identity crimes. It’s often challenging for the prosecutor to establish particular goods’ legitimacy, which means innocent people could end up with convictions. At the Orange County Criminal Lawyer, we understand how challenging it is to prove your innocence. For this reason, we invite you to call us today at 714-262-4833 to discuss your case and mount the right defenses to contest the charges.