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Receiving Stolen Property

Pursuant to California Penal Code §496, it is a crime to receive property that was stolen. Specifically, it is illegal to purchase or receive any property that was either stolen or came into the possession of someone else through actions that amount to theft or extortion. In addition to receiving the property however, the Defendant must have also known that the property was stolen, or at least suspected it.

In order to convict someone of receiving stolen property the Prosecution must prove the following elements:

  1. The Defendant came into possession and control of property;
  2. The property was stolen or obtained through criminal conduct;
  3. The Defendant knew, or should have known, that the property was stolen; AND
  4. The Defendant intended to permanently deprive the rightful owner of their property.

Like most crimes, there are an infinite number of ways to violate California Penal Code §496. However, there are certain situations that come up more regularly than everything else.

EXAMPLE:

Mike steals a bike from a neighbor’s house and brings it over to Dan’s house. Mike then tells Dan that he stole the bicycle, and asks Dan to hide it for him until people stop looking for it. If Dan agrees, he will be found to have received stolen property notwithstanding the fact that he didn’t pay for the bicycle, nor did he intend to keep the bike for himself. Dan will be guilty of receiving stolen property because he is in possession of the bike, he knew it was obtained in a criminal manner, and he intended to keep the property from the rightful owner indefinitely by stashing it for Mike until it is safe to take it.

EXAMPLE:

Dan is perusing EBay, and notices several phones being offered for below market price from the same seller. Dan purchased all of the phones he could afford. Dan might be guilty of receiving stolen property because he should have known based on the fact that he knew the price of the phones were below market. Ultimately the determination will be made by the jury, as to whether Dan should have known.

EXAMPLE:

Devin told Dan that he had committed a burglary a few nights prior, and obtained a bunch of jewelry. Devin asked Dan if he could hide the jewelry that Dan’s house. Dan said yes. Dan could be found guilty of receiving stolen property because he is in possession of property which he knows was obtained through criminal conduct, and Dan intended to help deprive the Victim of their property permanently.

Control & Possession

The first element the Prosecution must prove in order to obtain a conviction for a violation of §496is that the Defendant obtained control and possession over property. There are many ways to prove this element including: (1) proving an organized system for delivering property to the Defendant, (2) Proving that there was a set time and location for the Defendant to observe the items and pay for them, (3) proving that the Defendant instructed the thief where to leave the stolen property; and (4) proving that the Defendant performed the function of a “middle-man”, and helped the thief to find a buyer for the stolen property. In some circumstances, you can even be found guilty of receiving stolen property simply by being a passenger in a stolen vehicle.

This evidence of this element is particularly susceptible to attack, and a successful objection based on how the evidence was obtained could defeat the Prosecution’s case against you by excluding certain evidence from trial. For this reason, it is imperative that you provide your attorney with all the information you can recall about the conduct of the police before and after your arrest.

Example:

Dan is the owner of a local pawn shop. His friend Mike is a career burglar and often sells the items to Dan. Dan and Mike meet every Saturday in his shop, and conduct there transactions out of the back room. If the evidence can introduce evidence of their organized system, the Prosecution will succeed on proving control and possession of the stolen property.

Example:

Mike had stolen a bunch of electronics, and informed Dan of that. Dan said to meet him on Wednesday in the parking lot of a nearby high school so he could look at the goods. If the Prosecution can show that there was a set time and place for Dan to view the stolen property and that he bought it, Dan will be found to have control and possession of stolen property.

Example:

Mike had recently stolen a fancy car and wanted to sell it. Dan gave Mike $10,000 and told Mike to leave the car in a parking lot nearby with the keys under the front wheel. If the Prosecution can prove that Dan instructed Mike where to leave the property, Dan will be found to have had control and possession of the vehicle.

Example:

Mike had recently stolen a painting for a wealthy neighbor and wanted to sell it. Unfortunately Mike didn’t know anyone in the market for an expensive painting. Dan knew a few people he thought would be interested, so he contacted them about buying a stolen painting. If the Prosecution can prove that Dan acted as a middle man for Mike, he will be found to have had control and possession of stolen property and can be convicted of receipt of stolen property.

Naturally, after proving that the Defendant has possession and control of property, the Prosecution must then prove that the character of the property was “stolen.” This element provides another avenue of argument for the skilled attorney.

Property obtained through criminal conduct

Most jurisdictions in America have decided the issue of what “stolen property” is. Essentially, “stolen property” is any property that was obtained through specified property offenses. In California, “stolen property” is property that was obtained through burglary, robbery, larceny, false pretense, or trick.

A key aspect of this element is that the property was actually “stolen property.” If the property is not truly stolen, the Defendant may be guilty of attempted receipt of stolen property, but not the crime of receiving stolen property. Thus, the person who purchases items he believes are stolen because of the low price cannot be found guilty of violating §496 if the seller was just selling the property for less than it was worth because he felt like it, as opposed to because it was stolen.

If the buyer has arranged to return the property to the rightful owner, the nature of the property is no longer stolen when it comes into the Defendant’s possession. Further, if stolen goods were obtained by the police in the course of an arrest, and then used with the permission of the owner for the purpose of catching someone receiving stolen property, the Defendant cannot be found guilty of the crime because the nature of the property was no longer stolen. Again, the Defendant may still be convicted of attempted receipt of stolen property.

Defendant’s Knowledge

In addition to proving that the Defendant had control and possession of property, and that property was “stolen property”, the Prosecution must prove that the Defendant knew or should have known that the property was stolen. It is not necessary that the Defendant actually know that the property was stolen, but there must be a strong belief of that fact. This is generally proven by circumstantial evidence such as where the sale occurred, the price the items were sold for, and the circumstances of the sale itself. To make the determination, the trier-of-fact (the jury) will weigh evidence of what the Defendant knew at the time of the crime. Thus, if the Defendant figured out that the property was stolen after he purchased it, a skilled defense attorney would point out that at the time of the crime, Defendant had not satisfied this element of the crime.

Intent to deprive the rightful owner of the property permanently

Finally, the Prosecution must prove that when the Defendant took possession of “stolen property” with knowledge that it was stolen, they concurrently had the intent to deprive the actual owner of that property form the benefit of ownership indefinitely. Therefore, if the Defendant purchased property he knew was stolen, with the purpose of finding the true owner and returning it, the Defendant is not guilty of receiving stolen property.

I Have Been Convicted of Receiving Stolen Property, What Penalties May I Face?

If accused of receiving stolen property, the Prosecution can bring the charge as either a misdemeanor or a felony. This is known as a “wobbler offense.” The determination is based on the facts surrounding the crime. The most decisive factor is the value of the property the Defendant received. Pursuant to California’s Proposition 47, the Prosecutor is not free to bring a receipt of stolen property charge as a felony unless the value of the property exceeds $950. However, this does not mean that a Defendant will automatically be charged with a felony, it just means that the Prosecution now has the option to charge the Defendant with a felony.

If you are convicted of misdemeanor receipt of stolen property you may face incarceration in county jail for a period of up to one (1) year and/or a fine of up to one-thousand ($1,000) dollars.

If you are convicted of felony receipt of stolen property, which means the Court determined the value of the property you received exceeds $950, you may face incarceration in California State Prison for a period ranging from sixteen (16) months to two( (2) or three (3) years and/or a fine not exceeding ten-thousand ($10,000) dollars.

I Have Been Accused of Receiving Stolen Property, How Can Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer Help Me?

As a general rule, if you are accused of receiving stolen property, you will be charged with a misdemeanor offense. As mentioned above, if the value of the stolen property exceeds $950, the Prosecutor has the option of charging you with a felony. Any conviction will appear on what is known as a “criminal background check”, which most employers conduct as a matter of course when deciding who to hire. Many employers are incredibly hesitant to hire someone with a criminal conviction. As such, the best outcome LACL can hope for is an acquittal or a dismissal of the charges against you.

If you are accused of receiving stolen property, contact LACL immediately so they can begin hand crafting a defense for you and your case. Contacting LACL early on in the process will allow our skilled attorneys to build the best defense available, and present that defense to the District Attorney. Approaching the District Attorney with a developed theory of defense provides our client’s the best opportunity to have the charges against them dismissed or reduced.

In the event that the District Attorney will not reduce or dismiss the charges against you, the case against you will go to a jury trial. LACL has decades of combined experience in front of juries, and has perfected the art of trial advocacy. During your trial, your LACL attorney will raise defenses, which include:

  • The property wasn’t actually stolen when you received it
  • Entrapment
  • You never possessed the stolen property
  • You didn’t know the property was stolen
  • You weren’t aware that stolen property was in your control
  • Illegally obtained evidence
  • Your intentions were innocent

In the unfortunate event that you are ultimately convicted, your LACL attorney will persuasively advocate for a reduced sentence in an effort to aid our client in avoiding time in jail. Ultimately, having a skilled attorney representing your case throughout the entire process provides several opportunities for your attorney to obtain a favorable outcome to your case.

If you or a loved one has been accused of receiving stolen property, contact Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer at 310-502-1314 today for a FREE consultation.

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