It is a criminal offense to sell, buy, receive, withhold, or conceal from the owner of property, which is stolen. Reach out to The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney if you've been charged with receiving stolen property. We will be by your side in every step of your criminal case, and we can assist you to successfully fight your case. We primarily provide professional legal help to clients who have been charged in the Los Angeles area.
The Legal Definition of the Offense of Receiving Stolen Property in California
There are three main elements that the prosecution must prove for you to be convicted of the offense of receiving stolen property in California. Just like in any other criminal case, the burden of proof rests on the prosecution, and the standard of proof should be beyond a reasonable doubt. Here are the three primary elements of receiving stolen property:
- You bought, sold, assisted in selling, received, concealed, withheld from the owner, or helped in withholding or hiding from the owner property, which is stolen or gotten through extortion
- You knew that the property was stolen or obtained by fraudulent means
- You knew of the presence of the property
We will discuss these elements in detail below.
Element no. 1: Buying, Selling, Receiving, Concealing, or Withholding Property
The terms withholding, concealing, buying, and selling are rather straightforward elements; but receiving isn't. The prosecutor must demonstrate that you were involved in one or more of these actions for his case to hold water.
You are deemed by the law to have received the property if you tend to control it or you take possession of it. You must not be the only person possessing it; two or more people can possess a particular piece of property simultaneously.
Element no. 2: You Knew that the Property was Stolen or Obtained by Extortion
According to the laws of California, the property is categorized as stolen if it is obtained through theft, robbery, or burglary. Theft encompasses larceny, trick, embezzlement, and false pretense.
For the prosecution to prove that the goods were obtained through extortion, he must show that the owner consented to give away his products. Furthermore, he must illustrate that this consent was obtained through fear and the use of force.
Element no. 3: Knowing the Presence of the Property
This is the most critical element which the prosecutor must prove for you to be convicted. You would not be guilty of the offense of receiving stolen property if you didn't know that you had an item that is not legally yours in your possession. Maybe you hired a fraudulent handyman who decided to hide some stolen electronics inside your shoe rack – you never know.
Receiving Stolen Property for Business Owners
Some business owners may be convicted of the offense of receiving stolen property even if the prosecutor is unable to prove that they knew they had an item that is obtained fraudulently in their possession. Most of these business owners include a swap meet vendors and those who deal primarily with collecting personal property or merchandise. For instance, they can be second-hand booksellers and collectors of metals and junks.
As a business owner, you should take reasonable measures to ensure that you don't deal with property, which is obtained illegally. In fact, California law requires you to make inquiries about whether any person who intends to sell you some goods is legally entitled to them.
Receiving Multiple Stolen Property Items
You can receive many pieces of stolen property simultaneously. In such a case, you will only be charged with one count of the offense of receiving stolen property.
If you receive multiple stolen property items during different occasions, you will have to face many separate counts of PC 496a charges. The number of counts which you will be charged will depend on the number of times that you have received stolen property under different circumstances.
For instance, Charity manages a jewelry store. A homeless man comes to him and sells to her five high-quality pieces of golden necklaces. She accepts the ornaments and pays for them, without questioning the homeless man where he obtained them. After a couple of weeks, the homeless man returns to Charity with four more necklaces. Charity repurchases them, without asking the man whether he had a legal right to sell them. Later, it turns out that the necklaces had been stolen. In this situation, Charity will be charged with two counts of receiving stolen property; even though she dealt with nine necklaces.
The Penalties for the Offense of Receiving Stolen Property in California
As per California law, the offense of receiving stolen property is a wobbler. This means that it can be charged both as a felony and a misdemeanor, per the discretion of the prosecutor.
Before you are charged with either misdemeanor receiving stolen property or felony receiving stolen property, the prosecutor will look at the specific circumstances of your situation and your past criminal history. However, if the property in question is below $950, the prosecutor will only have the option of charging you with misdemeanor receiving stolen property.
The penalties for misdemeanor receiving stolen property is a one-year jail term, a fine which should not exceed $1000, and summary probation. On the other hand, the punishment for felony receiving stolen property is a jail term which may be for sixteen months, two years, or three years, a fine which may be up to $10,000, and formal probation. Moreover, you will receive a lifetime ban on owning or possessing a firearm; as common in all felony convictions in California.
Additionally, anyone who might have suffered from your actions can institute a civil lawsuit against you. This lawsuit may help them recover from their loss since you will have to offer them monetary compensation. The value of this compensation might be triple the number of their actual damages, together with legal fees, and the total costs of the civil action.
Are There any Immigration Consequences for Being Convicted of Receiving Stolen Property?
If you are not a citizen of the United States, being convicted of receiving stolen property might make you face very grievous penalties from the immigration department. In the United States, receiving stolen property is categorized as a crime involving moral turpitude.
A conviction of receiving stolen property may make you ‘inadmissible' in the USA. For instance, you may not be permitted to get a green card, naturalize, and be a citizen of the United States, become a legal immigrant, or reenter the United States. You can even be deported as well.
It is quite essential to inform your lawyer that you are a non-US citizen when hiring him to help you fight your PC 496a charge. You should consider retaining an attorney who understands the link between immigration law and California criminal law.
Defenses to the Offense of Receiving Stolen Property in California
There are several defenses to the offense of receiving stolen property in California. You should hire an attorney who is experienced in California criminal law. With the help of your attorney, you can build an excellent defense strategy that can lead to an acquittal or a dismissal of your case. Here are some examples of defenses to receiving stolen property:
- You Did Not Know That the Property Had Been Stolen
As asserted earlier, one of the main elements which the prosecution must prove for you to be convicted of receiving stolen property is that you knew that the property was not obtained through legal means. If you assert that you didn't know that the property had been stolen, your case will be dismissed.
The prosecutor can prove that you knew that you were dealing with a stolen property through various means. For example, he can demonstrate that the price was too low. Alternatively rather, he can show that the serial numbers of the product label had been removed. This evidence isn't necessarily conclusive, and your attorney can find alternative ways to instill doubt in the mind of the jury.
- You Did Not Know That You Had Stolen Property in Your Possession
Perhaps someone else hid the stolen property inside your house without you knowing. This person might have been your teenage son, roommate, neighbor, family friend, boyfriend, among others. Maybe that person wanted you to get into trouble, or they were merely looking for ways to cover up for themselves. Then, law enforcement officials found the property inside your house, and they put you under arrest without examining and investigating you thoroughly. Generally, there is always a way out if you've been charged with the offense of receiving stolen goods and you didn't know that you had them in your possession.
- Innocent Intent
You could utilize the defense of innocent intent if you received the stolen property in a bid to return it to its rightful owner or to surrender it to the law enforcement officials. For example, Godfrey is a second-hand bookseller. A police officer wearing civilian clothes offers to sell him some books. This police officer explains to him that these books have the stamp of the local library and that they are stolen. He also tells him that he can benefit financially since he will buy them from him at a low price and sell them at a higher price. Godfrey agrees to the offer – but with the intention of returning them to the library after the purchase. Immediately after Godfrey buys the books, the officer stops his disguise and puts him under arrest for receiving stolen property. Godfrey's attorney can utilize the defense of innocent intent to set him free.
The defense of innocent intent applies to specific circumstances. You are only entitled to use this defense if your primary intention was to return the stolen goods immediately you received them. Also, you must prove that you didn't have a change of mind. The defense of innocent intent will not apply to you if you kept the stolen item after receiving it, even if you later decided to give it back to its rightful owner.
- You Were Under the Influence of Alcohol or Drugs When You Were Receiving the Property
You can assert that you were voluntarily intoxicated. This way, you will show that you had no intent to receive property, which is acquired unlawfully.
If you utilize this defense, you will have to demonstrate that you were under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time when you were receiving the stolen items. Therefore, you were not in the right state of mind; and you were unable to realize that the goods were stolen or obtained fraudulently.
- Unlawful Searches, Seizures, and Arrests
California laws prohibit police officers from conducting searches, arrests, and seizures unlawfully. Also, evidence which is acquired illegally is usually inadmissible to any court in the United States.
Before a law enforcement officer conducts a search in your residential or commercial building, he must produce a warrant. Moreover, when he arrests you, he should read to you your Miranda rights. He should also not violate any fundamental rights and freedoms which you are entitled to like the right to privacy, protection from torture, right to dignity, among others.
If he doesn't do so, your attorney can apply for a suppression hearing. In this hearing, he will seek to quash any evidence which the prosecution obtained in the unlawful search, seizure, or arrest. This way, the prosecutor will have no case, and you will be acquitted.
- You Didn't Have the Possession of the Property
The prosecution can wrongly assume that you possessed the stolen property. Maybe you were just merely present in that area where the stolen item had been kept. Lack of possession is the most effective defense to utilize in instances whereby many people reside in the area where the property was hidden. In these instances, your attorney can defend you by demonstrating that it was someone else who possessed the property; and not you.
- The Property was Not Stolen
The prosecutor must prove that the property in question was indeed stolen. If he can't do so, your case will result in a dismissal or an acquittal. Your attorney can defend you by telling the jury that the victim lied in saying that the property was stolen, or that he was mistaken.
- The Claim of Right
Perhaps you sincerely believed that you were legally entitled to take the property. If so, your criminal defense attorney can utilize the ‘claim of right' defense for you to obtain either an acquittal or a dismissal. For the jury can consider this defense, you must have gotten hold of the property openly, and you didn't try to conceal any of your actions.
Expungement for Receiving Stolen Property in California
If you have been convicted of misdemeanor receiving stolen property, you can erase your criminal record under the provisions of PC 1203.4. This expungement cannot totally erase your bad history, though the general public will be denied access to this record if they conduct a quick background check on you. For example, your private employer or landlord may fail to know that you were once arrested if you expunge your conviction of misdemeanor receiving stolen property.
You don't lose any of your civil rights if you get convicted of receiving stolen property. However, some people such as landlords and employers may still utilize your criminal record to ascertain whether you can be trusted. If they find out that you have on your file a conviction of receiving stolen property, they may deny you some opportunities.
Furthermore, you can still expunge your felony receiving stolen property conviction. In fact, as per California criminal laws, any felony conviction can be expunged if you prove that you didn't serve any time in state prison. Additionally, you must show that you have successfully completed your probation, you don't have any pending criminal charges, and you haven't been involved in the commission of any offense after the probation.
Receiving Stolen Property and Related Offenses
Typically, the charge of receiving stolen property is usually linked to other theft crimes in California. The following are some examples of theft crimes related to receiving stolen property.
- PC 487 Grand Theft and PC 488 Petty Theft
You will be charged with either PC 487 Grand Theft or PC 488 Petty Theft if you take an item that does not belong to you unlawfully. Typically, the crime of grand theft involves items whose value exceeds $950. On the other hand, the offense of petty theft involves goods whose total value is below $950.
You cannot be convicted of receiving stolen property and either grand or petty theft of the same item. Sometimes, the prosecutor may charge a defendant with the offense of receiving stolen property if he believes that he is the one who obtained the property fraudulently. This is especially in situations whereby the prosecution doesn't have sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it is the defendant who had stolen the property. In such circumstances, they can find enough evidence for you to be convicted of PC 496a.
For instance, John has some valuable tools in his garage. Unfortunately, he leaves his garage door open. James – John's neighbor, notices someone walking stealthily into his garage, then comes out with a toolbox. John finds out that his tools have gone missing, and he notifies the police. Some law enforcement officials catch Donald with the toolkit, but James is unable to recognize Donald as the person who entered John's garage. In this case, the prosecution will charge Donald for receiving stolen property instead of the offense of theft. This is because they will be unable to find a suitable eyewitness to prove that Donald was the thief - but they have strong evidence to ascertain that he possessed stolen property.
- PC 503 Embezzlement
As a defendant of the charge of receiving stolen property, you may have dealt with goods which are acquired through theft, burglary, shoplifting, and robbery. However, you can also deal with valuable items which have been gotten through embezzlement too.
Penal Code 503 defines the term embezzlement as the act of fraudulently appropriating property, which has been entrusted in your care. The penalties for embezzlement are similar to those of theft.
- PC 518 Extortion
You will be charged with the offense of extortion if you utilize threats or force to compel someone else to give you his money or his property. This offense can also be filed in connection with the charge of receiving stolen property in California.
If you are convicted of extortion, you may have to serve a jail sentence of up to one year. This jail sentence can be increased for three more years, depending on some aggravating factors. Some of these factors include injuring the victim, accusing the victim or his loved one of a particular crime, and exposing him to public disgrace by revealing a secret that affects him.
- PC 485 Appropriating Lost Property
According to PC 485, it is a criminal offense in California to acquire lost property if you knew who the owner was and you didn't make any reasonable efforts to find him and return what rightfully belongs to him. This offense is categorized in the same group as theft, and it is punishable in the same way as petty theft or grand theft.
Most people confuse the criminal offenses of receiving stolen property and appropriating lost property. You will only commit the offense of appropriating lost property if you don't try to return any lost item to its original owner. On the other hand, you will get convicted of receiving stolen property after someone else has stolen some goods and they happen to be in your possession.
Find a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
Call The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney today at 310-564-2605 if you have any questions about the criminal offense of receiving stolen property. You can also discuss your situation confidentially with one of our attorneys. We are a team of lawyers who are highly experienced, dedicated, and committed. With our assistance, you can fight your PC 496a charges to the best possible outcome.