Receiving Stolen Property

The seasoned LA Criminal Defense Attorney law firm is at your service should find yourself arraigned on account of receiving stolen property. Legal matters are quite intricate and need a keen, technical approach. So, if you received stolen property, either knowingly or unknowingly, you need someone well-versed in this particular crime. In the following sections, we will give an overview of what you need to know about the receiving stolen property charge in California.

What gets Classified as Receiving Stolen Property in LA?

Penal Code 496a explains California’s law regarding receiving stolen property. The code states it is illegal to obtain, buy, sell, withhold, or conceal from the rightful owner any property that the defendant is aware of as having been stolen. If convicted of the indicated crime, one can get penalized either as a misdemeanor or a felony. In this case, ‘stolen property’ used to refer to property that was taken either as per guidelines by California petty theft, grand theft, embezzlement, or extortion (Penal Code 518). In technical terms, Penal Code 496 PC asserts that every individual that receives or buys any property that got stolen or got obtained in any means instituting theft or extortion, knowing the property was taken or acquired unwillingly.

Also, an individual that sells, conceals, withholds, or aids in withholding, hiding, selling, of any belongings from the possessor, knowing the possessions were stolen or received unlawfully, shall be punished by imprisonment in county jails for a period not exceeding one year, or incarceration per subdivision (h) of Section 1170. Though, if the value of the property does not surpass $950, the offense is a misdemeanor, simply punishable by imprisonment in county jails, for a 1-year term. That is if such person has no prior convictions for an offense itemized in clause (iv) of subparagraph (C) of passage (2) of subsection (e) of Section 667 or for a transgression requiring registration according to subdivision (c) of Section 290.

So, what would typically get classified as receiving stolen property? Take, for instance, a scenario where a boyfriend receives goods from his girlfriend, whereas he has full knowledge that those goods got stolen from a convenience store. And, it does not have to be a case where the taken goods were handed over to another individual. For example, if police stop you on suspicion of stealing the vehicle you are driving, you could get charged for receiving stolen property. That is if they do not have enough evidence to prove you took the car in question. Lastly, another relevant example would be a situation where an online salesman receives large amounts of goods without their original serial number or proper identification documents. Such a case would get linked to receiving stolen property, as per California Law.

In cases where one gets charged with receiving several stolen goods in one instance, only one charge applies. However, where the goods got received in many occurrences, each case is worth a count. Take for example a situation where a pawn shop attendant receives two pieces of jewelry from what appears to be a homeless person. The homeless person returns after several days, and yet again the attendant gets three pieces of silver, without inquiring on the legitimacy of the source. Later on, it turns out the homeless person stole the pieces of jewelry. Despite having received five pieces of silver, the shop attendant only faces two counts of receiving stolen property. All because the exchange of the five pieces took place on two different occasions. Had the transaction taken place on one occasion, only one charge would apply. So is the case for multiple occurrences, each event amounts to an extra count of receiving stolen property.

For immigrants, there is much more to lose. Since receiving stolen property is considered as a crime that involves moral evil, you stand to lose any chances of becoming a citizen. The very charge of receiving stolen property makes one barred from re-entering the United States. You can no longer naturalize as a U.S citizen, no longer eligible for a green card, you cannot attain the status of a legal migrant, and in worst case scenarios, you could quickly get deported.

Entities Susceptible to the Charge of Receiving Stolen Property

First, it is important to note that business owners could get prosecuted for receiving stolen property even where there is no sufficient evidence to indicate the business owner had prior knowledge that the goods were stolen. Even people with no known base of operations but in the business of exchanging goods could get charged if:

  • The circumstances under which products acquired needed background checks to ascertain if the seller had the right of sale.

  • The buyer failed to conduct due diligence as indicated above

There are also other classes of business people liable to conviction if they receive stolen property. The procedure as explained above applies for this group of people as well. It is upon them to ascertain that the individuals selling have the right to do so. The group includes:

  • Collectors or dealers in second-hand goods, junk, and metallic objects. Metals include those in the form of wires, copper cables, iron, solders, lead, mercury, and brands of any kind used in public utilities.

  • Second-hand book dealers involved in the purchase of material meant for use either in universities, libraries, or any other public institutions. Especially so, if the books bear signs indicating the same.

Charges Related to Receiving Stolen Property

There are various charges closely related to receiving stolen property. Often, and where the circumstances allow, receiving stolen property substitutes some of those charges. For example, cases where the prosecution knows the defendant stole the property but the evidence available is not strong. In such a case, receiving stolen property is preferred as an alternative charge. For instance, where your neighbor sees someone entering your house and coming out with a household item. Later on, someone two blocks away gets arrested with the exact household item stolen from your place. Unfortunately, your neighbor is not in a position to confirm that the individual caught two blocks away, is indeed the person that entered your house. As such, prosecutors would have a hard time proving a theft charge. Thus, they prefer the alternative, and the easier to prove the charge of receiving stolen property. Here are a few charges with close links.

  1. Petty Theft: as per California’s Penal Code 484(a)PC and 488PC, petty theft can include any crime meeting the following measures.

    1. the item stolen was neither an automobile or gun

    2. the value of the item stolen is below $950

    3. the item in question was not taken directly from the owner, as in cases of mugging or robbery.

    Majorly, most petty theft charges revolve around shoplifting cases. Prosecutors have to prove that the item in question got taken without the owner’s consent and that the defendant for a fact, took what belongs to someone else. They further have to prove that the defendant’s actions intended to take possession of the said item from its rightful owner, the good’s value was less than $950, and the defendant moved the goods no matter how small a distance, with assumed possession for some time no matter how long. Other offenses linked to petty theft include theft by pretense (deceiving the property owner by making false claims), theft by embezzlement (unlawfully changing ownership of property under trust), and theft by trick (knowingly tricking the owner into handing over property).

    However, all three must involve property or goods not worth more than $950. Petty theft carries with it a sentence not exceeding six months, fines, stay away orders, and reimbursement where applicable. California Penal Code 490.1 PC allows prosecutors to treat petty theft charges as infractions. That, however, applies for first-time offenders and they may stand a chance of going through diversion programs to avoid criminal convictions.

    Unfortunately, those who have previous petty theft convictions get charged with petty theft with priors as per 666PC. A felony or misdemeanor charge applies, with the felony carrying a maximum 3-year jail term. Please note that any petty theft conviction will be available on any criminal background checks conducted in the future.

  2. Burglary: California Penal Code 459 PC classifies burglary as the entry into a building, vehicle, or home with the intents and purposes of committing any felony. Where burglary involves entry into a hotel room, home, or any other residential setting, the defendant gets charged with a first-degree burglary which is a felony. As for second-degree burglary, a felony or misdemeanor applies. It involves entry into a commercial building with the intention of committing a felony and is sometimes referred to as commercial burglary.

    The prosecution should prove that

    1. the defendant gained entry into a room, building or vehicle, which was locked and

    2. on entry, they intended to commit a felony or theft.

    An individual is further considered to have gained entry so long as part of their body or some object in use by them penetrated the area’s outer boundary. As per the law, the term building encompasses popcorn stands on wheels, chicken coops made of wire, telephone booths, and even loading areas enclosed by chain link fences. Besides, it is vital to note that the defendant does not need to necessarily commit theft or felony for a burglary charge to apply. Penalties for the first-degree burglary involve up to six years in prison, strikes under California Law as well as considerable fines.

    Second-degree burglary felony charges carry a maximum sentence of three years, while if charged as a misdemeanor there are lesser consequences. The judge could further add onto the sentence, dependent on various factors. For instance, where the defendant had prior burglary charges, they could get an additional year for each prior count. In cases where the victim suffered physical harm three to six years could get added onto the sentence. Also, where the victim was vulnerable (blind, deaf, disabled, under 14 or over 65) two to three years could get added onto the sentence.

  3. Embezzlement: also called employee theft, embezzlement falls under white collar crime classifications as guided by California’s Penal Code 503 PC. Embezzlement is the act of taking something that belongs to another person, which got entrusted to you. Legally, the property is yours but taking it without permission constitutes illegality. As the alternative name suggests, most of the embezzlement cases take place at the workplace. An employee gets entrusted with things, which they take without permission.

    If convicted, the outcome could be detrimental to say the least. Other than the humiliation, one may not be in a position to ever successfully get employed in the future. The prosecution has to prove

    1. you took the item or money in question with the intent of depriving the rightful owner(s) its use

    2. you have a relationship with the victim, often employee-employer relations

    3. within the grounds of the said relationship, you got entrusted with property, money, or other items of value.

    If the value of the item in question is less than $400, that is a misdemeanor chargeable as per 484 PC, Petty Theft. For items worth more than $400 that constitutes a felony chargeable per 487 PC Grand Theft.

  4. Robbery: California Penal Code 211 PC broadly defines robbery as theft using force. Rightly so, as robbery involves force and fear. The prosecutor should however prove:

    1. The defendant took property he had no ownership over.

    2. The items were taken against the rightful owner’s will.

    3. The items were taken in the owner’s presence.

    4. The defendant made use of force or fear in countering resistance as he took the items in question, and

    5. When the defendant made use of force or fear in taking the property, they intended to deprive the owner enjoyment of use permanently or for a given period.

    Thus, even if returned after some time, the defendant can still be charged for robbery if they gained unlawful possession and moved items in question some distance no matter how little, and regardless of the time spent in doing so. Robberies committed on passengers or drivers of commercial vehicles, on persons soon after leaving ATMs, and those committed at individual’s homes carry a maximum sentence of nine years. Such, get treated as first degree robberies. Second-degree robberies comprise of all other types of thefts and bring with them a maximum verdict of five years. Further to this, if the defendant robbed more than one person, they can get charged with multiple counts of robbery. If they made use of a gun, the sentence goes up to ten years and twenty if the weapon got fired. Whether or not a firearm got used, any defendant convicted of robbery loses his chances of ever owning or purchasing firearms, permanently.

  5. Grand Theft: Grand Theft has to meet three conditions. The item stolen is either a car or gun, the item’s value exceeds $950, and the goods in question got robbed in the physical presence of the owner. There is provision for grand theft by crime, in cases where the products which got stolen are over $950 in value. Such examples include high-end stores where a few things would be worth much. Still, the prosecutor has to prove:

    1. the defendant took another person’s property without their permission

    2. the defendant had the intention of taking the property from its rightful owner

    3. the defendant did all of the above without the owner’s consent

    4. the property value exceeded $950, and the property got taken directly from its owner, was either an automobile or firearm

    5. the defendant moved or kept the property in their possession.

    There are also other elaborate factors to prove grand theft by embezzlement, pretense, and through trickery. The offense is a wobbler too, and a misdemeanor charge leads to a sentence of up to one year, plus court charges and fines. The Felony version of this charge leads to a 3-year jail term. However, other considerations could add to that sentence. If the property value exceeds $65,000 an extra year gets added, if above $200,000 there are an additional two years, other three years for items valued past $1,300,000 and an extra four years for property worth $3,200,000 or more.

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Elements of Crime that Need Proving

Since receiving stolen property is a serious crime, the prosecutor has to dispel any doubts with regards to a few fundamental issues. Proof is needed that the defendant received, bought, sold, or helped in the sale of, withheld or assisted in concealing property taken from its rightful owner. Also, inadmissible evidence that when the defendant did this, they had full knowledge that the property in question was stolen. Moreover, there are specifications by the Penal Code on crimes relating to identified groups of persons involved in the sale and buying of stolen goods.

  • 496a (a) PC covers dealers or collectors of junk metals and second-hand materials.

  • People dealing in the exchange and collection of personal property, and swap vendors. All covered under 496 (b) PC.

  • 496b PC deals with persons in the selection of literary material and secondhand books.

  • 496d (a) includes all persons involved in trade concerning vessels or construction equipment, motor vehicles, and trailers.

  • 537e (a) outlining persons engaged in the sale and buying of electronic equipment, and computer chips or panels whose serials are missing or removed.

One may ask what happens if they had no way of finding out the rightful owner. Well, that turns out to be a crime too. As per 485 PC, it is a crime if you find property under conditions that make it hard for you to find the owner, yet you do not make any reasonable efforts in finding them or returning the goods. That is known as the appropriation of property and is somewhat considered as petty theft. It is, however, not under receiving stolen property, but a separate crime on its own.

Receiving Stolen Property, Defenses to Expect

While this job entirely belongs to your LA Criminal Defense Attorney, it does not hurt to know what defenses have been used in the past.

  1. Having No Knowledge on the Property’s ‘Stolen’ Status: being one of the most important factors leading to conviction, a defendant’s successful plea of having no knowledge of theft could lead to an acquittal. Prosecutors generally build on what would sometimes appear to be flimsy grounds. For example, a prosecutor might indicate that an item’s ridiculously low price should raise flags.

  2. Innocent Intent: it is one of the legal defenses per California Law. However, you need to meet the condition that on receiving the property, you intended to either submit it to the police or return it to the rightful owner. Take note though; this defense does not apply in cases where you intended to return the property on the receipt but later changed your mind. It also does not apply in instances where you had original intentions of keeping the property but later changed your mind to return it.

  3. No Knowledge of Possessing Stolen Property: perhaps the property in question was placed in your premises by someone else without your knowledge. It could be your boyfriend, girlfriend, roommate, anyone with the intent of getting you into trouble. Then, the police took you into custody on account of the item within your premises. Should there be proof beyond a reasonable doubt that you did not know of the item’s existence, you are on your way to an acquittal.

  4. Voluntary Intoxication Status at the Time of Receiving Stolen Property: California Law charges for offenses committed while under the voluntary influence of alcohol or drugs. However, you can use voluntary intoxication to argue that in your state there is no possible way you would have realized the item in question was stolen.

If you are being charged with a crime feel free to contact our Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer for a free consultation.