LEGAL GUIDE
Written by attorney David Jon Pullman | Nov 15, 2013

California: Receiving Stolen Property

Receiving Stolen Property

Receiving Stolen Property – Penal Code section 496 – is one of the more commonly charged crimes. Penal Code section 496 prohibits buying, selling, receiving, concealing, or withholding stolen property. Anybody who is found to have possessed stolen property can be charged with this crime. Often the police are overzealous and charge this offense when a legitimate business transaction is made or when a person unknowingly acquires stolen property. In these situations, the charges can be defeated at trial. In other cases, it may be possible to have the case dismissed or, if necessary, arrange a plea to lesser charges.

Penal Code section 496 is referred to as a “wobbler" because it can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor. As a misdemeanor, it carries up to a year in the county jail. As a felony, it carries a maximum of three years in prison. A priority of any defense against Penal Code section 496 will be to get it reduced to a misdemeanor at the first possible opportunity.

Elements of the Crime

To obtain a conviction under Penal Code section 496, the prosecution must prove that the defendant:

  1. Bought, sold, received, concealed, or withheld property.

  2. That the property was stolen.

  3. That the defendant knew that the property was stolen.

Possible Defenses

The Property Wasn’t Stolen– Property is only stolen, if the person who took it, intended to permanently deprive the owner of the property. If the property was just borrowed or taken temporarily, it is not stolen.

Didn’t Know the Property Was Stolen – Even if the prosecution can prove that the property was stolen, it is often much more difficult for them to prove that the defendant knew that the property was stolen. It is usually the defendant’s own statements that are used against him or her to demonstrate knowledge that the property was stolen. This is why it is always best to remain silent when dealing with police.

Claim of Right– If the defendant believed that he or she had a right to the property that was stolen, perhaps because it was previously stolen from the defendant, then the defendant cannot be convicted of violation Penal Code section 496. Under some circumstances, this can be a viable defense to this charge.

Lack of Possession – Having the stolen items on one’s property, is not enough to establish possession. The defendant must have exercised some type of dominion or control over the stolen property in order to have possessed it. Stolen property can turn up at someone’s home or in their car, without them knowing it was even there. In such cases, they cannot be convicted of violating Penal Code section 496.

Transient Possession – A transient possession defense can apply when the defendant only possessed the property for a short time and intended to return it to the owner or report it to the police.

Penal Code section 496 is a serious offense and one that nobody wants to have on their criminal record. These are difficult cases for the prosecution to prove. A good defense will exploit the holes in the prosecution’s case and turn it into a favorable outcome for the defendant.

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