California Penal Code Section 496(a) PC: Receiving Stolen Property
1. Definition and Elements of the Crime
While many theft offenses make it illegal to unlawfully take or steal property from someone else, the person who receives stolen property can also be charged with a crime under the law. Receiving stolen property is a serious criminal offense under California Penal Code Section 496(a) PC that can result in a felony conviction.
To prove that the defendant is guilty of receiving stolen property, a prosecutor must be able to establish the following elements:
- The defendant bought, received, sold or aided in selling, concealed or withheld property that has been stolen from another
- AND when the defendant did this, he or she knew that the property had been stolen.
The Penal Code establishes individual crimes for specific persons buying or receiving certain types of stolen property, including the following:
- Swap meet vendors and people who deal or collect merchandise or personal property - California Penal Code Section 496(b) PC
- Dealers or collectors of junk metals or secondhand materials - California Penal Code Section 496a(a) PC
- Dealers or collectors of secondhand books or other literary material - California Penal Code Section 496b PC
- People buying or receiving motor vehicles, trailers, special construction equipment or vessels - California Penal Code Section 496d(a) PC
- People buying or selling computer chips or panels, electronic equipment, or appliances in which serial numbers have been removed - California Penal Code Section 537e(a) PC
A defendant who receives more than one item of stolen property on a single occasion commits only one offense of receiving stolen property. In addition, a person may not be convicted of stealing and receiving the same property. That means a person who steals a car and is caught with it can be prosecuted for grand theft auto under California Penal Code Section 487(d)(1) PC or receiving stolen property under California Penal Code Section 496(a) PC, but not both.
2. Related Offenses
Related offenses include the following theft crimes:
- Petty Theft - California Penal Code Section 484(a) PC
- Grand Theft - California Penal Code Section 487 PC
- Burglary - California Penal Code Section 459 PC
- Robbery - California Penal Code Section 211 PC
- Embezzlement - California Penal Code Section 503 PC
A man finds a cell phone for sale over the Internet and arranges a meeting with the seller. The phone is offered at a reasonable price and the seller claims it belongs to him and he just got a new phone so he wanted to get rid of his old phone. The man buys the phone from the seller. It is later determined that the cell phone was actually stolen from the manufacturer. The buyer probably would not be guilty of receiving stolen property, as he did not know the phone was stolen nor were there circumstances that would lead a reasonable person to believe the property was stolen. However, if the phone was sold for far less than its value, if serial numbers were scratched off, or there were other circumstances that seemed suspicious, the buyer could be criminally liable for receiving stolen property even if he was not specifically informed that the property was stolen.
4. Defenses to Receiving Stolen Property
As described above, a person who accidentally or unknowingly receives stolen property would not be criminally liable under statute. In these circumstances, the defendant would have a valid accident defense if charged with this offense.
Receiving stolen property is a "wobbler" offense that can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the factual circumstances of the case and the defendant's criminal history. If convicted of receiving stolen property as a misdemeanor, the defendant can be sentenced to up to a year in jail and costly court fines. If convicted as a felony, the maximum sentence is three years in prison. In addition, the victim of this offense would be entitled to collect three times the amount of his or her damages, in addition to attorney fees and costs.
6. Criminal Defense for Receiving Stolen Property
If you have been charged with receiving stolen property it is imperative that you discuss your case with a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney as soon as possible. Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Michael Kraut is a former Deputy District Attorney with over 14 years of prosecutorial experience who previously was assigned to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's elite Major Fraud Division where he prosecuted offenses such as this. Mr. Kraut is reputed for his legal acumen and tenacity in the courtroom.
For more information about receiving stolen property, and to schedule your free consultation, contact Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Michael Kraut at the Kraut Criminal & DUI Lawyers located at 6255 Sunset Boulevard, Suite 1520, Los Angeles, CA 90028. Mr. Kraut can be reached 24/7 at 888-334-6344 or 323-464-6453.