California Penal Code 496 (PC) is the statute that defines the offense of receiving stolen property. The offense is a wobbler; therefore, it can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on your criminal history and the circumstances surrounding your case.

A misdemeanor conviction for receiving stolen property could see you serve a sentence of up to 1 year in jail, while a felony conviction could see you serve a sentence of up to 16 months, 2, or 3 years in prison.

If you or a family member are facing charges for a PC 496 violation in Anaheim, you want to secure the services of an experienced attorney. The lawyer should have many years of experience representing defendants accused of receiving stolen property.

At California Criminal Lawyer Group, we have lawyers ready to take on your case and help you build solid defenses that will help you fight the charges against you and ensure that you have a positive outcome. Contact us today so that we can start working on your case.

What is  Receiving Stolen Property Under California PC 496?

Penal Code 495 makes it a crime to knowingly receive or buy property obtained through extortion, unlawful means, or theft. You violate this statute further when you sell, withhold, conceal, or aid in concealing the stolen property from its owner.

When Are You Charged with PC 496 Violation?

Many theft crimes primarily focus on the defendants who took or stole property; however, Penal Code 496 focuses on who receives the stolen property.

For the prosecution to accuse you of receiving stolen property, they must prove without a reasonable doubt that:

  • You Received, Bought, Aided In Selling Or Sold Stolen Property. The prosecution must prove that you engage in actions related to the stolen property. These actions include receiving, buying, withholding, aiding in selling, or selling stolen property.
  • You Had Knowledge That The Property Was Obtained Through Extortion Or That It Was Stolen. You are only guilty of receiving stolen property if you had full knowledge that it was obtained through theft.
  • The Property Was Obtained By Extortion Or Theft. You are guilty of violating PC 496 if it is established that the property under your ownership was obtained through extortion or theft. The prosecutor must prove that the origin of the property in your ownership is elicit.

Meaning of “Extortion” and “Stolen”

Property is considered stolen if obtained through any form of burglary, robbery, or theft. Extortion, on the other hand, involves obtaining goods from your victim with their consent. However, this consent was granted after you used fear or force on the victim.

Meaning of “Receive”

Under Penal Code 496, “receive” means more than just physically accepting or taking possession of stolen goods. It involves:

  • Actual or Constructive Possession. Actual possession means physically having the stolen item, while constructive possession means you have control over it, even if it is not on your person. For example, if you store the stolen goods in your office or garage, that is considered constructive possession.
  • Knowledge of Stolen Nature. You must know that the property was acquired through extortion or was stolen. If you genuinely did not know the property’s illicit origin, it can be a valid defense against charges of receiving stolen property.
  • Intent to Aid the Thief. The prosecutor will want to establish whether you wanted to aid the thief in their unlawful activities by accepting the stolen property. If you knowingly receive stolen property with the intention of helping the thief profit from the crime, you could be held criminally liable.

For example, Jackie steals a car from the yard, takes it to the countryside, and asks her grandma, Rachel, to hide it for her in her garage. Her grandmother agrees but never uses the vehicle.

Here, Rachel is guilty of violating Penal Code 496. While she never ‘possessed’ the vehicle, she had control over it because it was in her garage. She can be convicted of receiving stolen property. And if she informs her husband about the stolen property, he will be guilty of the same crime. This means that a property can be co-possessed.

Meaning of Knowingly

For you to be convicted of receiving stolen property, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you had knowledge that the property you received was stolen. The following elements constitute ‘knowledge’ under PC 496:

  • Actual Knowledge. Actual knowledge means you were aware, without any doubt, that the property was stolen. This implies that you knowingly accepted stolen goods, fully understanding their illicit origin.
  • Reasonable Belief vs Willful Ignorance. If you genuinely believed that the property was acquired legally or that you had a legitimate right to possess it, this can serve as a defense against the charge of receiving stolen property. However, if you were ignorant about its origin, you could be convicted.
  • Duration of Possession. The duration of your possession of the stolen property can also be a factor. If you quickly realized it was stolen and took steps to return it or report it to the authorities, this may suggest a lack of knowledge or intent to possess stolen property.

Penalties for PC 496 Violation

Receiving stolen property is considered a serious crime in California. The severity of the penalties depends on various factors, including the value of the stolen property and your criminal history.

Misdemeanor Charges

If the value of the stolen property is $950 or less, you could be charged with a misdemeanor. If convicted, you could face up to one year in jail and fines of up to $1,000. You could also be sentenced to serve misdemeanor probation.

Felony Charges

If the value of the stolen property exceeds $950, you could face felony charges. A conviction could have you serve up to 16 months, 2, or 3 years in prison and receive fines of up to $10,000. You could also be sentenced to serve felony probation.

Violation of PC 496 can be charged as a wobbler offense. If you were convicted of a serious felony prior to receiving stolen property, you could be charged with a misdemeanor or felony regardless of the value of the property that was stolen.

Are you Charged Separately for Each Piece of the Stolen Property?

One common question in the context of receiving stolen property in California is whether each piece of stolen property leads to a separate criminal charge.

Under Penal Code 496, you only face one charge per transaction. This means that even if you received many pieces of stolen property in one transaction, the prosecutor can only charge you once for violating PC 496.

You also cannot be penalized for both receiving and stealing the same property. The prosecutor can only charge you with one crime.

Immigration Consequences

If you are a non-U.S. citizen facing charges of Penal Code 496 violation, you want to seek the services of a competent lawyer. A conviction could have far-reaching implications for your immigration status and future eligibility for visas.

If you are found guilty of having received stolen property, you could face deportation and inadmissibility into the U.S. Deportation involves your ultimate removal from the country. Inadmissibility means that if you leave the country and attempt to re-enter, you could be denied entry based on your criminal record.

A conviction for violating PC 496 can adversely affect your eligibility for various visas, including immigrant visas. If you are applying for a visa or green card, a criminal record may lead to denial or delays in the processing of your application.

Can a Penal Code 496 Conviction be Expunged?

Expungement is the legal process that allows you to have a criminal conviction removed from your record, providing you with a fresh start and improved opportunities in terms of employment and housing.

If you were convicted of a misdemeanor PC 496 charge, you could be eligible for an expungement if:

  • You have completed your probation or sentence for the receiving stolen property conviction.
  • You are not currently facing any other criminal charges, probation, or serving a sentence for another offense.
  • Your conviction did not involve certain serious or violent felonies that are not eligible for expungement.

However, if you were convicted of a felony, you cannot be eligible for an expungement under California statutes.

Penal Code 496 Conviction Effects on Your Gun Rights

Under California law, you cannot possess, acquire, or own firearms if you are convicted of felonies, such as receiving stolen property. Therefore, you could lose your right to possess, purchase, or own a gun.

Legal Defenses to Penal Code 496 Violation Charges

If you are facing charges for Penal Code 496 violations. In that case, you want to secure the counsel of an experienced attorney who will help you build solid defenses that will lead to the dismissal or reduction of the charges you are facing. Some of the common defenses to PC 496 violation charges include the following:

You Were Not Aware That The Property Was Stolen

One of the most crucial elements under Penal Code 496 is that a prosecutor must prove without a reasonable doubt that you knew that the goods you were receiving were obtained through extortion or theft.

However, if you genuinely did not know that the goods you were handling had been stolen, you could use this as your defense. For you to prove your lack of knowledge, your attorney will work to establish that you had no reason to suspect that the goods were stolen. This could involve presenting evidence of:

  • Legitimate Acquisition: If you can show that you obtained the property through a legitimate transaction or from a source that appeared to be lawful, it can cast doubt on the prosecution's claim that you had knowledge of its stolen status.
  • Lack of Suspicious Circumstances: If the circumstances surrounding the acquisition of the property were not suspicious and you had no reason to question its origin, this can support your claim of innocence.
  • No Prior Criminal Record: Your clean criminal record and lack of involvement in previous criminal activities related to stolen property can be crucial to your defense.

Innocent Intent

You could also argue that while you may have temporarily possessed stolen goods, you intended to return them to law enforcement or their rightful owner.

Your attorney must demonstrate your intent to return the stolen goods by showing that you communicated your intention to the property owner through emails, calls, or text messages.

Your lawyer could also demonstrate that you took prompt action to return the property as soon as you realized it was stolen. You could also establish that you had no intention of benefiting from the stolen property personally. This could strengthen your defense.

You are only guilty of receiving stolen property under PC 496 if you had the intention to use, sell, or keep the property to yourself. However, if this was not your intention, the charges against you could be dismissed.

For example, Lucy owns a jewelry shop. A man comes to her shop and tells her that he wants to sell her stolen jewelry. Lucy is offended but buys the jewelry so that she can bust the man and take the stolen jewelry to the law enforcers.

Here, Lucy is not guilty of violating Penal Code 496 because her intentions were innocent.

Note that this defense can only apply if you had the intention to return the stolen goods and kept your mind the same.

You Did Not Receive Stolen Goods

For you to be convicted of a Penal Code 496 violation, you must have received stolen property. You could argue that you never received or possessed any stolen goods.

If the prosecution cannot prove your receipt of the stolen property, that will strengthen your defense. In many cases, the law enforcers have no video evidence of the stolen goods being received, therefore weakening the prosecution’s accusation.

However, considering that this statute also defines receiving stolen property in terms of constructive possession. Where you do not have to possess the stolen property physically, but you have control over it.

You could argue that you were not aware of the stolen goods and that you had no intention to exert control over them. If you can establish that you had no plans to benefit from or possess the stolen goods, it can undermine the case against you.

For example, your friend Ann asks you to hold on to a laptop for her for some time. If the laptop belongs to Ann, then you did not receive stolen property.

You Received Stolen Property Accidentally

Sometimes, you may find yourself in possession of stolen goods purely by accident, without any intention to commit a crime. Receiving stolen property by accident implies that you had no prior knowledge of the property's stolen status. In such cases, the law typically takes into account the absence of intent and awareness when evaluating your culpability.

The prosecution can only accuse you if they have proven that you had the knowledge of the property’s stolen nature and the intent to take control of it.

If you can establish that your possession of the stolen goods was purely accidental, it would strengthen your defense. In some cases, cooperating with law enforcement and returning the stolen property can be a mitigating factor. It can demonstrate your lack of criminal intent.

For example, Agnes is enjoying the nice weather at the park while doing some assignments. She is seated next to John, who has the same bag as hers. John, in this case, has a bag full of stolen jewelry and is waiting for his client. Upon receiving a call that the police are on his trail, he swaps Agnes’ bag and runs away.

Agnes, without realizing it, leaves the park with the stolen goods. Here, Agnes is not guilty of violating Penal Code 496, as she was not aware her bag had been swapped.

Related Offenses to Receiving Stolen Property

You could be charged with a PC 496 along with or in place of other crimes, including:

Extortion, PC 518

Extortion, as defined under PC 518, is a crime that involves obtaining goods, services, money, or property from another person through coercion, intimidation, and threats.

It is considered a more aggressive offense than receiving stolen property as it involves the use of threats and force to obtain goods unlawfully.

Theft

Under Penal Code 485, it is a crime to keep things that you collect if they can be traced back to their rightful owner. You have the burden to search for the rightful owner of something that you find.

Robbery

In California, under Penal Code 211, robbery occurs when you use force, intimidation, or fear to take property from another person’s immediate possession. It is a violent crime that differs from theft in that it involves direct confrontation or threat. Penalties for robbery can range from 2,3 to 9 years in prison.

Burglary

Penal Code 459 makes it a crime to enter a building, vehicle, or structure with the intent to commit petty theft, theft, or another felony. It's important to note that the intent to commit theft inside is a key element of burglary. If convicted of a felony burglary offense, you face up to 16 months, 2, or 3 years in prison, while a misdemeanor could have you face up to 1 year in jail.

Petty Theft

Under Penal Code 484, petty theft is the unlawful taking of property valued at $950 or less. Petty theft is charged as a misdemeanor in California and carries less severe penalties compared to grand theft. A conviction would have you face a sentence of up to 6 months in county jail.

Grand Theft

Under Penal Code 487, grand theft involves the theft of property exceeding $950 in value. It can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances of the case. A conviction could have you face up to one year in jail for a misdemeanor charge and 16 months,2, or 3 years in prison for a felony charge.

Grand Theft Auto

PC 487(d)(1) defines grand theft auto as the theft of a motor vehicle that is more than $950. It is considered as a wobbler offense, depending on the circumstances of your case. A misdemeanor charge carries the potential to serve one year in jail, while a felony charge has potential penalties of 16 months, 2, or 3 years in prison.

Receiving Stolen Junk Metal

Penal Code 496a makes it a crime for collectors of or dealers in metals, secondhand, or junk materials to receive or buy any cable, wire, copper, mercury, iron, brass, or lead from the railroad or other transportation utility service unlawfully.

Receiving Stolen Secondhand Books

It is a crime under PC 496b for collectors or dealers of literary materials or any second-hand books to receive or buy any manuscript, book, chart, map, or any work of literature bearing any mark that indicates ownership by a public college, university, or library without ascertaining that the person selling that literature material is allowed legally to do so.

Receiving Stolen Vehicles

Under PC 496d, it is a crime to receive or buy a vehicle that has been stolen knowingly. It can be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor. A conviction could see you serve up to three years in prison.

Find a Anaheim Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me

Receiving stolen property in California is a theft crime. If you or a family member have been accused of a PC 496 violation in Anaheim, you could face harsh and life-threatening consequences. Therefore, you want to seek the intervention of an experienced lawyer who will take you through the legal framework of Penal Code 496 and the potential penalties if convicted.

Your attorney will also help you build solid defenses that will help your case have a positive outcome. At California Criminal Lawyer Group, our lawyers have decades of experience representing defendants accused of PC 496 violations, and we are ready to take on your case to help you fight for your rights. Contact us today at 714-766-0965 so that we can review your case and advise you on your legal options.