California theft crimes criminalize the act of unlawfully taking or stealing someone else’s property. The law does not stop here as it goes ahead in PEN 496(a) to prohibit individuals from obtaining, buying, or selling stolen goods. The offense is serious and can result in felony sentencing and penalties.

Have you been apprehended and charged with receiving stolen property in Riverside?

The Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm is ready to assist. We understand that many individuals arrested and charged with obtaining stolen goods are innocent because usually, they lack the knowledge the goods in their possession are stolen. Our attorneys have highlighted the following in this article to help you if you face charges for this crime.

Meaning of Receiving Stolen Property

According to PEN 456, receiving stolen goods or property is defined as purchasing, selling, obtaining, hiding, or withholding property you knew or ought to have known has been obtained illegally through theft or extortion. Defendants in these cases are people who were aware the property in their possession was stolen but still hid or aided in concealing the property. 

Obtaining stolen goods is not just mere possession. When you face PEN 496(a) charges, it simply implies that you knowledgeably:

  • Bought
  • Obtained or received
  • Concealed or hid
  • Sold
  • Withheld property obtained through illegal means or theft.

For instance, when you want to purchase jewelry for your spouse and go to a seller known for stealing jewelry to buy it at a lower price. Because you were aware the property you are purchasing is stolen or should have a reason to know it is stolen. You are guilty of PEN 456a violation. The same applies when a friend of yours steals a laptop, and you let them hide it in your house. When this is the case, you are guilty of hiding or concealing stolen property. In these cases, the critical legal element is the awareness that the property is stolen. Even if you did not steal the properties in person, you are complicit and should face penalties under the law.

Elements of Receiving Stolen Property

The reason for proving these elements is there are several ways you can find yourself on the wrong side of this statute. However, a charge does not mean you stole the goods. For the state or prosecutor to convict you of PC 496(a) violation, they must establish all the case elements. These are:

  1. Receiving Property

Receiving under PEN 496(a) means possession or control of the property. Besides, at least one individual can be charged with the crime. When you physically obtain or arrange for transportation or transactions of property obtained through theft or other illegal means, you will face charges for violation of this code section. The state will find you guilty if you knowingly buy stolen property, receive or borrow it. The prosecuting attorney proves that you enjoyed the benefits of the stolen goods. For instance, you borrow a stolen vehicle to go for a ride, but you fail to step out of the car after learning it is stolen. Instead, you continue to derive benefits from it. In a situation like this, you will be guilty of obtaining stolen property.

Again, when you spend money you knew was stolen, you will face charges for PC 496 violation.

  1. Acquiring Stolen Goods

There are several ways of stealing property. You can accomplish theft through burglary of property, robbery, false pretenses, trickery, or extortion. In this case, extortion means using fear or force to obtain someone’s consent to take their property. Also, the property can be stolen through embezzlement, where an individual in a place of power misappropriates funds assigned to them for selfish reasons.

  1. The Awareness Aspect

Another critical element the prosecutor must demonstrate is knowledge or awareness that the property in your possession or control is stolen. If the state cannot confirm you knew the property was stolen during the purchase, sale, or time of maintaining control, you will not be guilty, and the charges will be dropped.

  1. Continuation of the Criminal Intent

The state must demonstrate that your intention at the time of obtaining the stolen goods was to deprive the rightful owner of its benefits or enjoyment by continuing the thievery, keeping control, and possession of the goods. Continuation of the illegal intent, in this case, means concealing the property, not reporting to the authorities, and other ways of maintaining control.

Business Owners Legal Responsibility

Under PC 496, there are individual crimes for businesses involved in buying or gathering property for resale. The companies or parties include:

  • Pawnshops
  • Swap meets vendors or merchandise dealers or collectors
  • Second-hand metals or material dealers
  • Individuals purchasing, receiving, or selling motor vehicles or electronics
  • Second hand books dealers or collectors

According to PEN 496(b), any business stated above will face criminal charges when:

  • They acquire property situation they had a reason to believe the goods were stolen, asked if the seller was the rightful owner or had the right to put up the property for sale
  • They failed to inquire whether the goods had been stolen

If you run any of these businesses mentioned above, you must be very careful because even your employees could land you in trouble when they transact with stolen goods. The law requires you to spot-check before purchasing or gathering second-hand merchandise or junk as a business owner. Additionally, you should warn your employees against buying or collecting property from a suspicious seller to avoid criminal charges that can cripple your business.

Note that even when you receive multiple stolen merchandise on one occasion, you will not face charges for each item. Instead, you will only meet one count for obtaining stolen property. However, when you receive stolen goods on separate occasions, you will face charges for each event.  Further, the state cannot charge you with both theft and receiving stolen goods. For instance, you steal a laptop today, and tomorrow you are found in its possession and arrested. You will be charged with theft or receiving stolen goods but not both charges in the circumstances.

Penalties for Receiving Stolen Property

As per PC 496, obtaining stolen goods is a wobbler crime that attracts severe misdemeanor and felony consequences. The minimum court-imposed sentence is twelve months in jail, misdemeanor probation, or up to $ 1,000 monetary court fines when charged as a misdemeanor.

As a felony, PC 496 violation is punishable by formal probation, a monetary court fine of no more than $10,000, or a prison sentence of six, twenty-four, or thirty-six months.

Keep in mind that when the worth of the property in question is less than $950, the offense is no longer a wobbler. It becomes a misdemeanor regardless of your criminal history or prior offenses. 

Penalties for Businesses

California PC 496(b) and Business and Profession Code 21661 requires different penalties to be applied if you are a swap meet vendor, collector, selling, or engage in business deals involving the sale of personal property and are convicted for receiving stolen goods. The kind of penalties you face varies depending on the property's worth. When the property in question is worth over $950, you will face felony penalties whose sentence is prison incarceration for thirty-six months. On the other hand, if the property is valued at $950 or less, the offense is a misdemeanor and therefore punishable by up to a half year in county jail.

Additionally, the victim can seek civil damages from your business. Usually, the damages are worth three times the value of the stolen goods because of the many expenses you have incurred in the tort and attorney fees. 

Immigration Consequences

If you are an alien and have been convicted for a PC 496 violation, you will face harsh immigration consequences, including deportation, because the violation is a crime of moral turpitude.

You will not be readmitted when a conviction happens, and you leave the country. However, when you are already in the country, you will no longer be eligible for a green card, naturalization, or obtain valid immigration status. In situations like these, you need an experienced immigration attorney on your side to challenge the deportation. However, this can only be possible if you are eligible for deferred action under temporary secured status or a status adjustment.

Receipt of Stolen Property Expunction

As indicated earlier, a violation of PEN 496 is a wobbler when the amount in question is $950 or above. However, the offense is a misdemeanor when the amount is less than $950. When convicted for a misdemeanor offense, you are eligible for criminal record expunction under PC 1203.4.

Although an expunction will not delete your criminal record entirely, it will be sealed from the public when someone tries to run a background check on you. Therefore, individuals like landlords or private employers will not find a criminal arrest or sentence in your history. It means that your criminal history for receipt of stolen property will not affect your future ability to obtain employment or lease an apartment. Nonetheless, a criminal record will still be visible when running for public office and will disqualify you for the job.

A sentence for a misdemeanor PC 496 will not deny you civil privileges. And even though the law prohibits landlords and private companies from disqualifying employees based on their criminal record, these individuals will still consider the history to deny you employment, promotion, or a lease contract.

It is worth noting that even if you were convicted for a felony PC 496 violation, your case is not entirely hopeless. If you did not serve any prison sentence after conviction, you are eligible for expungement. Additionally, when you fulfill all the terms and requirements of probation, have no pending case in court, and have not engaged in any contravention of the law, you are eligible for expungement even after you are convicted for a wobbler offense.

When convicted for a felony, you can obtain an expungement by first requesting the court through a petition to lower the sentence to a misdemeanor in PEN 17(b)(3). You regain the second amendment right to own or possess a firearm by doing this.

The expungement process is not an easy one. There are complex procedures and strict deadlines to be met. A criminal attorney that understands these laws will help you file all the necessary documents with the district attorney fifteen days before the expungement hearing. The timeline allows other parties to contest your petition to prepare for the hearing. Nonetheless, the DA or prosecuting team will rarely challenge your petition for an expunction, except when you fail to meet the criteria provided in the law.

Defenses for a PC 456 Violation

Recall, a receiving stolen goods charge attracts misdemeanor or felony charges. Therefore, because you will face severe penalties upon conviction, you must mount a solid defense to ensure the court’s verdict is in your favor. There are many defense strategies your criminal attorney will use to contest the charges, and the majority often focus on the element of insufficient evidence. Some of these defenses include:

  1. Unawareness That The Property Received Was Stolen

During prosecution, the prosecutor must prove you knew or was aware that property you received was stolen to prove you are guilty of the offense. Nonetheless, when they lack sufficient evidence to prove you knew the source of the property, the court will conclude you were not aware, thus throwing out the case.

The prosecutor can claim that they concluded the property was stolen because it had no serial number or the price you bought it was far below the market price. However, these two assertions are not enough to convince the jury beyond reasonable certainty that you were aware the property was stolen beyond a reasonable doubt.

Your attorney will be helpful in these situations because they will explain why you were convinced the goods were not stolen to weaken the element further. You can assert that you made inquiries on why the property lacked a serial number or was selling at a low price, and the answer the seller gave was plausible. This argument and insufficient evidence of knowledge will ensure the court’s verdict is in your favor.

Also, you can claim that you were unaware the stolen property was in your possession or control because somebody else placed them there without your knowledge.

  1. Lack of Criminal Intent 

Your attorney can use the innocent intent defense strategy to win you the case. Recall you are guilty of a PC 496 violation when you receive the stolen goods with criminal intent. The attorney can assert that you knew the goods were stolen, but you only received them to give them back to the owner or the law enforcers.

Nevertheless, this defense strategy will not hold in court if you only intended to return the property after obtaining the goods. The court considers the immediate intention at the time of taking the property. If you took it with the intent of maintaining control but later had a change of heart, this will still count as a violation of PEN 496.

You must explain to the court the actions you took to return the property right after receiving it. You can claim that you called the police right away or reached out to the owner to come and pick up their property. When you maintain possession or control of the goods for several days, it will be impossible to convince the jury you had innocent intent when obtaining the property, hence being convicted.

  1. You Did Not Receive The Property

Recall, a critical legal element of receipt of stolen property is that you received the stolen property. Receiving in this context means possessing or controlling. Therefore, if you lack possession or control of items, the charges will be dropped even if you have been charged. Without proof of receipt of the goods, you are not guilty.

  1. You Were Intoxicated

Whether the intoxication defense will work in your case depends on the circumstances. Nonetheless, the strategy fails in most cases. With the help of an attorney, you can argue that you were intoxicated at the time of obtaining the goods, which impaired your judgment to buy or borrow the stolen item. Remember, the prosecuting attorney needs to show requisite knowledge that the property was stolen. Your levels of intoxication at the time prevented you from knowing they were obtained through extortion or other illegal means.

Offenses Related to PC 496 Violation and Their Penalties

Apart from the penalties for receiving stolen goods charges, other related offenses are charged alongside or with PEN 496 violation. Some of these crimes are charged in connection or as a distinct offense. The offenses include:

Embezzlement Under PEN 503

California PC 503 defines embezzlement as the illegal retention or fraudulent misappropriation of property entrusted by another person. The law is different from receiving stolen goods because it requires a fiduciary relationship between you and the victim, unlike PC 496, which requires receiving stolen goods.

The prosecuting attorney must demonstrate that you had fraudulent intent on the property entrusted to you through the fiduciary relationship when proving these cases. When convicted, the court will impose the following penalties:

  • No more than $1,000 or
  • As much as six months in jail when the property value in question is below $950.

On the other hand, when the property in question is above $950, you will face grand theft penalties, including six to thirty-six months of prison incarceration. Again, you will face additional punishment depending on the value of the property stolen.

Extortion Under PEN 518

As mentioned earlier, extortion is defined as applying threats or force to obtain consent from another person to take their property. Alternatively, extortion could mean using intimidation or verbal threats to compel a public officer to perform their official duties. Compared to receiving stolen goods, extortion is more aggressive as it involves using force. However, the two offenses are related in that you may receive stolen goods that have been obtained through extortion or use of force.

The threats that makeup extortion include:

  • Threat to inflict unlawful harm on the victim, their property, or someone else
  • Threat to reveal any of the victim’s secret
  • Threat to flame the victim or their immediate family member of a crime
  • Threat to disclose disgraceful info about the victim

When convicted for extortion, the penalties you face depend on whether you were charged with attempted extortion or extortion. The penalties for attempted extortion include no more than $10,000 court fines, 12 months of jail incarceration, or both. A conviction will result in felony penalties like prison incarceration for between twenty-four to forty-eight months in prison when charged with extortion.

Theft or Appropriation of Stolen Property

According to PEN 485, it is criminal to maintain control or possession of lost property when you have knowledge or means of finding its proper owner. The offense is different from the PC 496 violation because it focuses on not correctly or failing to locate the property's original owner, thus amounting to theft.

During prosecution of these cases, the DA must demonstrate that:

  • You found lost property, but some clues would help you identify the rightful owner
  • You kept the lost property for selfish benefits
  • You did not make reasonable efforts to locate the original owner

This offense is separate and distinct from obtaining stolen goods. When the court finds you guilty, you will be charged with petty or grand theft based on the stolen property’s value. You will face petty theft charges when the property's value is less than $950. If convicted, the offense is punishable by:

  • No more than six months in jail
  • No more than $1,000 court fines

PEN 485 violation will be charged as grand theft if the property’s worth is over $950. A felony conviction will result in up to thirty-six months in prison.

Find an Experienced Riverside Criminal Lawyer Near Me

If you are apprehended and charged with receiving stolen goods, it is imperative to talk to an attorney because this is a severe crime with life-changing repercussions. At Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we are ready to evaluate the facts of your case and prepare a solid defense to win the case. With the penalties a conviction for the offense attracts, you do not want to trial alone. Call us today at 951-946-6366 for a free consultation in Riverside, CA.