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Receiving Stolen Property – California Penal Code 496

The Crime of Receiving Stolen Property in California

It is likely common sense for those without law degrees that any type of theft is prohibited under California's criminal laws. However, the law not only addresses those who directly steal property from others, but also those to receive that stolen property after the fact knowing it is stolen. 

This is the crime of receiving stolen property as defined in California Penal Code Section 496. A person violates this statute when they buy, conceal, receive, or sell property they know to be stolen.   

Penal Code 496 states:

“(a) Any person who buys or receives property that has been stolen or obtained in any manner constituting theft or extortion, knowing the property to be so stolen, or who conceals, sells, withholds, or aids in concealing, selling, or withholding property from the owner, knowing that the property is stolen or obtained.”

A common example of Penal Code 496 crimes includes a situation where someone decides to help a friend by hiding property in their home knowing it was stolen in a burglary.

This article examines the common scenarios which constitute receiving stolen property, some common defenses, and the associated penalties should a defendant be convicted under Penal Code Section 496. 

As always, every case is different. Which, if any, factual or legal defenses apply in your case or your loved one's case will vary.

To give readers a better understanding of the crime of receiving stolen property, our Los Angeles criminal attorneys are providing a review below.

What Must Be Proven for a PC 496 Conviction?

We begin with the statutory definition of receiving stolen property. Penal Code Section 496 prohibits anyone from buying or receiving property that has been stolen or obtained in any manner which would constitute theft or extortion, knowing that said property was stolen or wrongfully obtained. 

Section 496 also prohibits concealing, selling, withholding, or helping anyone else do the same with stolen or unlawfully obtained property. 

In short, if the defendant knows a particular piece of property is stolen and either buys, sells, hides, or otherwise assists in preventing the true owner from recovering the property, they are guilty of receiving stolen property under Penal Code Section 496.

For additional information, see CALCRIM 1750 criminal jury instructions for receiving stolen property.

Common Examples of PC 496 Receiving Stolen Property

A common example includes a pawn shop owner who knows his customer is bringing him valuable goods which are stolen from other individuals but engages in a buyer-seller relationship anyway. 

Section 496 would also be the appropriate charge for someone who helps their friend re-sell stolen merchandise on the internet. 

Likewise, the customer in the online sale would also be guilty under Section 496 if he knew that the goods he purchased from the re-seller were stolen. 

Keep in mind that the definition of receiving stolen property extends beyond merely buying or selling property. 

If the defendant knows that their friend has stolen a certain piece of property and merely allows the friend to use their home as a place to “stash” the goods, the defendant is equally guilty of receiving stolen property. 

Further keep in mind that this outcome obtains even if the defendant received no financial or other gain from allowing the “stashing” of the goods, and had no involvement in the original theft of the goods.

Penalties for Penal Code 496

Receiving stolen property is a wobbler offense under California law, meaning it can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor. 

The misdemeanor version of Section 496 carries a maximum penalty of one year in county jail. The felony version, on the other hand, carries 16 months, two years, or three years in the California state prison. 

As with other California theft crimes, the legislature in its wisdom has drawn the dividing line between a felony and misdemeanor filing for the same offense at $950.  If the loss is greater than $950, receiving stolen property is a felony.

A conviction of PC 496 receiving stolen property will have negative immigration consequences as it's a crime involving moral turpitude. This means an undocumented immigrant can be deported or denied entry.

Fighting Receiving Stolen Property Charges

Defenses to a charge under Penal Code Section 496 focus on the defendant's knowledge and intent. 

As we have seen, the critical fact which is almost always in dispute in a receiving stolen property case is what level of knowledge the defendant possessed at the time he received the property concerning the stolen nature of the property. 

Return to the pawn shop owner in our previous hypothetical. The store owner may plausibly say that he conducts hundreds of transactions per week and that this particular transaction did not raise any red flags or otherwise seem out of the ordinary.

The store owner may therefore have a strong legal defense that he had no knowledge that the property he received was stolen. 

The defendant's intent is also important. Return to our thief's friend who allows some property to be “stashed” in his garage.

If the defendant has no knowledge that his friend is a thief and is imply trying to do him a favor by allowing the use of his garage, he is not guilty of receiving stolen property, though his friend is still guilty of theft.

If you, or someone you know, has been arrested for, is charged with, or is simply under investigation for receiving stolen property in violation of California Penal Code Section 496, contact our experienced team of Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys for an initial consultation. 

Through the process of prefiling intervention, it may be possible to have charges dropped or reduced before court, thereby maximizing the chances of a successful outcome for you or your loved one.

Eisner Gorin LLP is a top-rated criminal defense law firm with a track record of success in all types of theft-related cases. We are located at 1875 Century Park E #705, Los Angeles, CA 90067. Call our office for an immediate consultation at (310) 328-3776.

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