WHAT IS RECEIVING STOLEN PROPERTY?
California penal Code §496 makes it a punishable offense to receive stolen property. Specifically, the statute makes it a crime for any individual who purchases, or is given stolen property, or has come into the seller’s possession through any conduct which amounts to theft or extortion is guilty of receipt of stolen goods if they know the property was stolen, or conceals property from the rightful owner knowing that it is stolen property.
To put it another way, it the crime of receipt of stolen property occurs when an individual gains control and possession of property that was stolen, when thy know the property was gained through the criminal conduct of the seller, and the buyer intends to deprive the true owner of the property indefinitely.
There are many variations of the crime set forth in California Penal Code §496, but certain factual patterns tend to arise more often than not. For example if an acquaintance of yours steals a video game console from Best Buy and brings it to your house, informing you of the fact that he just stole the console, and leaves the console with you at your house; you may be guilty of receipt of stolen property. It doesn’t matter that you didn’t pay for it, you are in possession of property, which you know was stolen, and you have the intent to keep it indefinitely as opposed to returning it to the store.
- A man goes online and purchases a large quantity of electronic equipment from the same seller, for well below market price, without asking the seller how he obtained the property in the first place.
- A man who helps his friend stashes a stolen microwave in his house, knowing full well that his friend had gotten the microwave during a burglary he committed a few days ago.
- Property teenager told his cousin that he had robbed someone at gunpoint the previous night, and asked his friend to help him hide the money he took from the victim. If the cousin helps, he could be guilty of receiving stolen property because he knew the property had been acquired through criminal means, and he intended to help his cousin deprive the rightful owner of the property permanently
- A mother helped her daughter sell some art to a museum in France, even though she didn’t quite understand where her daughter had gotten the art from; but she never asked. The mother could be guilty of receipt of stolen property because he didn’t ask where it came from, and he probably could have known that the art had been stolen.
RECEIVING POSSESSION AND CONTROL
The critical determination in assessing whether someone is guilty of receiving stolen property is whether the Defendant had dominion and control over the property itself. This can be proven by showing an organized delivery of the property that was stolen, or setting up a time and place for a buyer to view the items, and pay for them. You will be guilty of receiving stolen property if the person who stole the property leaves it in a location that the Defendant told the thief to put it, or if the Defendant acts as a middle man for the thief by setting up a buyer.
It should be noted that even being a passenger in a vehicle that you know has been stolen could possibly lead to a conviction under §496
Mike is a gardener at a wealthy person’s mansion. One day Mike sneaks into the house and steals very valuable jewelry. The next day Mike goes to his dad’s house and asks him for help selling the jewelry off. Mike’s father agreed, but said he didn’t have time until next week, he suggested Mike leave the stolen jewelry in the safe; Mike does that. In this scenario, Mike’s dad will be convicted of receipt of stolen property.
Dan was on his way to pick up his friend Clark from work. When he arrived, Clark got into the car and shuffled around in the back seat for a few minutes. Unbeknownst to Dan, Clark had stashed a diamond he had stolen from work in the back seat. Clark never told Dan about it, until a week later as he was taking the diamond out of Dan’s car. Dan cannot be found guilty of receipt of stolen property since he never knew he was in possession of stolen property.
RECEIVING OF STOLEN PROPERTY
The vast majority of American jurisdictions have a broad definition of what it means to be “stolen property.” It generally includes gaining the possession of any property by the commission of any one of the enumerated property offenses in that state. In California, property is deemed stolen if it is obtained by false pretense, robbery, burglary, larceny, embezzlement, or theft.
It is critical to be aware of the fact that, in order to be guilty of this crime, the property status of the item was stolen; it needs to have actually been stolen. This is true even if the person receiving the goods believes them to be stolen, but they were not, there is no crime that the Defendant can be convicted of. If the property is returned to the rightful owner, or if it has been arranged for the items to be returned to the rightful owner, the status of the property is no longer stolen. As such, if goods, which were stolen, are recovered by the police and are used in an undercover sting operation, with the owner’s consent, there will be no conviction for receipt of stolen goods if a Defendant purchases those goods he believes were actually stolen. A word of caution, you may still be convicted of attempt to receive stolen goods.
KNOWLEDGE THAT PROPERTY WAS OBTAINED IN A CRIMINAL WAY BY ANOTHER PERSON
As an additional requirement that the Prosecution must prove to the jury beyond a reasonable doubt, the Defendant has to have known, or at least had a strong hunch, that the item he is receiving was stolen. To prove this element of the crime, the jury will consider what the Defendant actually knew at the time of the transaction. Common examples include sales occurring in strange circumstances, or if the items are priced well below what the going rate for that item is.
INTENT TO PERMANENTLY DEPRIVE THE OWNER OF THE PROPERTY
The final element a Prosecutor will have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt is that when the Defendant took possession of the stolen items, he had the intent to permanently keep it from the rightful owner. Thus, if out of the kindness of his heart, a man purchases stolen goods for the purpose of returning it to the rightful owner, he cannot be convicted of receipt of stolen property even though he knew the property was stolen, and bought it.
WHAT ARE THE PENALTIES I MIGHT FACE IF I AM CONVICTED OF RECEIVING STOLEN PROPERTY?
In California, the crime of receiving stolen property can be brought as a felony, or it can be brought as a misdemeanor. The decision is made by the Prosecutor on the case, and that decision is typically made based on the value of the stolen property the Defendant received. This is known as a “wobbler.” After California passed Proposition 47 however, the Prosecution may only bring the charge as a felony if the value of the items were more than $950. The Prosecutor is not required to charge this crime as a felony, I is just a prerequisite for him to do so. If the property that was received is worth less than $950, the Defendant can only be charged with a misdemeanor.
If you are charged with misdemeanor receipt of stolen property you will face up to one year of incarceration, a fine of up to $1,000, a combination of both.
If you are charged with felony receipt of stolen property, meaning the property you received was worth more than $950, you will face incarceration for a period of time extending from sixteen months, to two years, or even three years, or a fine not more than $10,000, or a combination of both jail time and affine.
Clark was walking around a mall parking lot late one evening when he spotted a van stopped under one off the lights with the back doors wide open. An individual called him over and asked him he wanted top of the line speakers for $10 a pop. Clark knew that the speakers were worth $1,000 each, so he jumped on the opportunity and purchased it. In this case, Clark can be found guilty of receiving stolen property, and the property’s value is more than $950. In this event, the Prosecutor could charge Clark with felony receipt of stolen property, and if convicted, Clark could be subject to the penalties listed above for a felony conviction.
WHAT LEGAL DEFENSES CAN MY OCCA ATTORNEY RAISE IF I AM CHARGED WITH RECEIVING STOLEN PROPERTY?
The crime off receiving stolen property in California is generally going to be charged as a misdemeanor offense. If he value of the item you received was greater than $950, the Prosecution may, but is not required to, charge you with felony receipt of stolen property. Regardless of what form of the crime you are convicted of, the conviction will appear on your criminal record. If an employer conducts a standard background check on you before hiring you, they will discover your conviction for receipt of stolen property, and may decide not to hire you. This is very real risk, especially when the crime involves acts of theft of dishonesty. If you have been charged with receipt of stolen property in California, contact an attorney at Orange County Criminal Attorney immediately, competent representation can result in have your case dismissed, receiving a verdict of not guilty, or reduced sentencing. Some of the defenses you OCCA attorney can raise in your defense include:
- You didn't know the property was stolen.
- You didn't know that you possessed the stolen property.
- Innocent intent.