If you knowingly receive, sell, withhold or purchase an item obtained through theft, burglary, or robbery, you could be arrested and charged with receiving stolen property. Under California PC 496, receiving stolen property is a more complex offense compared to theft. Whether you face misdemeanor or felony charges for your crime, a conviction for receiving stolen property attracts severe and life-changing consequences. You risk serving a lengthy prison senate accompanied by hefty fines.

If you or a loved one faces criminal charges for receiving stolen property, you must speak with an experienced criminal defense lawyer. Your attorney can help you investigate the facts of your case and build a solid defense to ensure a reduction of your charges, lower penalties, or dismissal of the charges. Your choice of attorney when fighting charges under PC 496 can make a difference in the outcome of your case. At Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, we are committed to fighting for your rights and ensuring the best possible outcome in your case. We serve clients seeking legal guidance and representation to fight theft crimes in Los Angeles, CA.

An Overview of California Penal Code 496

California Penal Code 496 makes it a crime to receive, handle or purchase a property obtained through theft or extortion. Receiving stolen property is a more complex offense than simple theft. Before you face a conviction for receiving stolen property, the prosecution must prove the following elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt:

1)  You Received, Bought, Sold, Withheld, or Aided the Sale of a Stolen Item

Under this statute, receiving an item means that you took possession or control over it. You do not have to take sole property ownership to face charges for receiving stolen property. Also, you can possess an item without holding or touching it. The concept of constructive possession of an item applies in this case.

2)  You Knew that the Property was Stolen

The idea that you could face criminal charges for possession of property temporarily is frightening, especially when you do not know that the item was stolen. California law recognizes that you may take ownership or control of an item and fail to acknowledge its source. For this reason, the prosecutor must prove your knowledge that the property was stolen before securing a PC 496 conviction.

An item is considered stolen when it is obtained through theft crimes such as petty theft, grand theft, robbery, or burglary. Additionally, a property taken from its owner through extortion can fall under the stolen property category.

3)  You Knew That the Property was in Your Possession

In addition to knowing about the illegal source of the property, you must have known that the property was in your possession. Items found within your control area will automatically be considered yours. For example, if you give a friend a lift in your vehicle and they leave behind a stolen computer, you can be charged with receiving stolen property. However, the prosecutor must prove your knowledge of the item's presence.

Criminal Liability for Business Owners under Penal Code 496

Some individuals purchase and collect property for resale, and they include:

  • Vendors at swap meets
  • Owners of pawnshops
  • Dealers in second-hand metals, electronics, or vehicles

If you fall under this category, the court can hold you liable for receiving stolen property under the following circumstances:

  • You acquired property under circumstances where you could have made inquiries to ensure that the seller was the property’s lawful owner.
  • You failed to make the necessary inquiries. As a dealer of second-hand items, you are legally required to do due diligence. If the seller cannot explain the suspicious issues around the property acquisition, obtaining the property could expose you to criminal charges.

Sentencing and Punishment for Receiving Stolen Property in California

Violation of CPC 496 is a wobbler. The prosecution can charge you with a felony or a misdemeanor. Some factors affecting the nature of your charges include:

  • The value of the property in question. If the stolen property is worth less than $950, you will be charged with a felony. However, for property worth more than $950, the prosecutor could file a felony charge.
  • Your criminal history. If you are a repeat offender with several convictions on your record, you risk facing a felony conviction under this statute.

As a felony, receiving stolen property is punishable by:

  • A prison sentence of up to three years
  • Formal probation
  • Fines that do not exceed $10,000

If your crime attracts a misdemeanor conviction, you will face the following penalties after a conviction:

  • A one-year jail sentence
  • A maximum of $1,000 in fines
  • Summary probation

In addition to spending time behind bars and incurring hefty fines, a conviction for receiving stolen goods could have serious negative immigration consequences. Immigrants who face charges under this statute risk extreme measures like deportation. Another way a conviction under this statute can affect your life is by losing your gun rights.

Legal Defense Against Penal Code 496 Charges

The consequences of a conviction under PC 496 are severe and life-changing. Therefore, you should begin defending against the charges as soon as you are arrested. The following are some defenses that you can present for your case:

You Did Not Know that the Property was Stolen

Your knowledge is vital when proving your guilt for receiving stolen property. Purchasing goods without a serial number cannot constitute your knowledge that the item was stolen. If you can prove that you did not know that the item you received or purchased was stolen, you cannot be found guilty of the offense.

Lack of Knowledge that you Possessed the Property

You can only be found guilty of receiving stolen property if you know that the stolen item was in your possession or immediate control.

A claim of Right

Under PC 496, stolen property is any item unlawfully obtained from the owner through theft or extortion. If you acquired the property with a reasonable belief that it belonged to you, your attorney could help you argue a claim of right in the case. However, you can only use this defense if it is clear that you believed in good faith that you rightfully owned the item in question.

Lack of Criminal Intent

Your intent to deprive the property owner of its enjoyment is one of the elements that the prosecution must prove to establish your liability for receiving or purchasing stolen goods. You can avoid a conviction for this offense by arguing that you took the items, intending to turn them over to law enforcement or return them to the rightful owner. However, you must understand that if you initially intended to keep the property and later changed your mind, you cannot use this defense for your case.

Frequently Asked Questions on Receiving Stolen Property in California

Everyone knows that taking property away from another person without their consent is illegal. However, you could feel confused and overwhelmed when you are arrested and charged with receiving stolen property. The following are frequently asked questions on Penal Code 496:

1.  How can the prosecution prove PC 496?

Before facing a conviction for receiving or purchasing stolen property, it must be clear that you knew about the source of the property. The most persuasive evidence to prove that the item was stolen is your confession to the police during investigations. Another way to show the source of the thing you possessed is circumstantial evidence inferred from your behavior during and after the arrest.

2.  Can I be convicted for receiving stolen property if I returned the item to its owner?

Your intent when receiving the property is critical during the prosecution for Penal Code 496. An innocent intent defense may apply to the case. However, the crucial inquiry is at what point you formed the intent to return the property to the owner. If your initial intention when receiving the property was to deprive its owner, you could still be convicted under this statute.

3.  Is receiving stolen property a felony or a misdemeanor?

Under California PC 496, receiving stolen property is a wobbler. A wobbler is a crime that can attract felony or misdemeanor charges. Although the prosecutor has discretion in deciding the nature of your charges, the property's value could affect their decision. Another factor that could influence how you are charged is your criminal history.

4.  Can I be convicted for receiving stolen property and theft simultaneously?

NO. Although the prosecution can file charges for theft and receiving stolen property together, you cannot face a conviction for both offenses. For example, if you encounter an arrest for owning a stolen item, the prosecution will begin their case by trying to prove that you stole it. If the evidence is insufficient to prove this fact, they can argue that you received the stolen property.

5.  Will I be charged with multiple counts of PC 496 for each property?

Yes. The prosecutor will file individual charges for each stolen property that you received. However, if you receive multiple stolen items at once, you will be charged with a single offense.

6.  Can I expunge a Penal Code 496 conviction?

A felony conviction for receiving stolen property on your record can be detrimental. Fortunately, there are several ways through which you can avoid the disabilities associated with the conviction. Under California Penal Code 1203.4, an expungement is a court proceeding where you withdraw the guilty plea from your case and enter a not-guilty plea to have your case dismissed.

Expunging your PC 496 conviction involves filing a petition with the court and attending an expungement hearing. However, before petitioning the court for this post-conviction relief, you must ensure that you meet the following eligibility criteria:

  • Completed probation. The court can sentence you to probation for a felony and misdemeanor conviction instead of serving jail or prison time. When imposing the probation sentence, the court will attach strict conditions you must follow. You can only expunge your conviction after complying with your probation without violating the requirements.
  • It would be best if you were not serving a jail sentence or probation for another offense.

Even after meeting the eligibility criteria. The court may consider the following factors when deciding to offer you the expungement relief:

  • Your performance on probation
  • The severity of your offense
  • Your criminal history
  • Other evidence that shows that you deserve the relief

If you expunge your PC 496 conviction, employers cannot discriminate against you based on the conviction. Additionally, you can answer “no” when asked about your conviction.

Offenses Related to Receiving Stolen Property

Receiving stolen property is one of the most severe crimes you can be charged with. After your initial arrest, the prosecution will file as many charges as their evidence can support. Therefore, the following related offenses can arise in your case:

Petty Theft

Petty theft is the most commonly prosecuted offense in California, and it involves taking property belonging to another person. One central fact distinguishing petty theft from grand theft is the property value. Petty theft involves taking property worth less than $950. There are several forms of petty theft, including:

Theft by Larceny

Theft occurs when you take property directly from another person's arms and carry it away. You can be found guilty of this type of petty theft if you intend to deprive the property owner of its enjoyment.

Theft by False Pretense

Petty theft by pretense involves three main elements:

  • You knowingly and intentionally made untrue statements to deceive another person
  • You made the statements to persuade the person to let you take ownership of their property
  • The person relied on the false information to allow you temporary or permanent right of their property

The prosecution in such a situation aims to prove that you tricked the alleged victim into letting you take their property.

Theft by embezzlement

You commit a crime of petty theft by embezzlement if the following elements are facts about your case:

  • A person entrusted you with their property worth $950 or less
  • The property owner trusted you to handle the property as instructed
  • You used the property for personal gain
  • You intended to temporarily or permanently deprive the property owner of its use

Petty theft is a misdemeanor punishable by a six months jail sentence and fines that do not exceed $1,000. Sometimes, the court could sentence you to probation as an alternative to jail time.

Grand Theft

California Penal Code 487 defines grand theft as taking another person’s property without consent. The property's value under this statute must be $950 or more. Like petty theft, grand theft could be through larceny, pretense, or embezzlement. If you face an arrest for possession of the stolen property, the prosecutor can work to prove that you were involved in taking the property away from the owner. This could cause you to suffer a conviction for grand theft or receiving stolen property.

Depending on the type of property involved and your criminal history, receiving stolen property could be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor. Grand theft is punishable by a year in county jail, misdemeanor probation, or fines of up to $1,000. On the other hand, a felony conviction attracts a prison sentence of sixteen months, two or three years. Your prison sentence will increase depending on the value of the property involved.


You commit the crime of embezzlement when you fraudulently appropriate funds or property that has been entrusted to you by the owner. Embezzlement is charged under California PC 503 and has the following elements:

  • A property owner entrusted their property to you.
  • The owner acted from a position of trust. The element that makes embezzlement a serious crime is that the property owner puts you in a position of trust.
  • You used the property for personal gain. Fraudulent use of a property means that you took undue advantage of the property and caused loss to the alleged victim of your acts.
  • You acted with an intent to deprive the owner of the enjoyment of the property.

Embezzlement can be charged as either grand theft or petty theft. If the amount you embezzled is worth more than $950, the prosecution can file wobbler charges. However, you could be charged with a misdemeanor for embezzlement of property worth less than $950. A conviction for misdemeanor embezzlement attracts a jail sentence of up to one year or three to five years of formal probation. If you are charged with a felony, you could spend up to three years in state prison.

In addition to incarceration, embezzlement is a crime of moral turpitude. If you are an immigrant in the United States, a conviction under PC 503 can result in inadmissibility or deportation.


Taking another person's property through violence or intimidation attracts criminal robbery charges under California PC 211. Before the prosecutor can secure a conviction in your case, they must prove the following elements of the crime:

  • You took property belonging to another person
  • The alleged victim had possession of the property at the time you took it
  • You took away the property in the immediate presence of the owner against their will
  • You acted intending to temporarily or permanently deprive the owner of the property

In California, robbery is divided into three degrees depending on the circumstances under which the offense occurred. A first-degree robbery occurs when you take away property from a passenger in a taxi, bus, or subway. Additionally, a theft crime in an inhabited home falls under this category.

A first-degree robbery is a felony punishable by up to six years in prison and a maximum of $10,000 in fines. A robbery that does not fall under first-degree is charged as second-degree. The punishment for a second-degree robbery is a five-year prison sentence and fines of up to $10,000. You could face an enhanced penalty if you use a firearm or cause significant bodily injury when committing the crime.


California Penal Code 518 defines extortion as using force, threats, or blackmail to compel another person to hand over property or money. The elements that the prosecution must prove to establish your guilt for extortion include:

  • You threatened to cause injury, use force, or expose a secret involving the alleged victim of their family
  • You threatened to force the victim into giving you property ownership or money. Extortion is a crime of specific intent. Therefore, the prosecution must establish your desire to commit the crime and achieve a particular
  • The alleged victim agrees to give you property and money or perform an official fact based on the threat. You cannot be charged with extortion unless there is clear evidence that the victim agreed to do what you wanted based on your threats.

If you face an arrest for receiving property obtained through extortion, the prosecution can file charges under PC 496 and 518. Extortion is a felony punishable by a four-year prison sentence and a fine of up to $10,000.

Find a Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me

California Penal Code 496 makes it a crime to receive an item with the knowledge that it was stolen. Property is considered stolen if it was obtained through a theft crime like robbery, burglary, embezzlement, or extortion. The prosecution has the burden to show that you intended to continue denying the property owner its use by accepting the item. You can face charges under PC 496 even when you are not involved in the illegal acquisition of the property.

In California, prosecutors can file misdemeanor or felony charges for violating CPC 496. Regardless of the nature of your crime, the consequences of a conviction go beyond jail time and fines. A criminal record for a theft crime could significantly affect your professional and personal life. Fortunately, not all arrests under this statute result in a conviction. With skilled legal guidance, you can effectively fight the charges and avoid the consequences of a conviction.

At Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, we have the knowledge and guidance you need to navigate your criminal case. You will need us if you or your loved one battles criminal charges under PC 496 in Los Angeles, CA. Contact us today at 424-333-0943.