What must the prosecutor prove
In order to prove you guilty of receipt of stolen property in violation of Penal Code section 496, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt the following:
- You received, sold, assisted in selling, held, or withheld from the rightful owner stolen property;
- You knew that the property was stolen; and
- You knew that the property was in your possession.
A closer look at the elements:
“You received property”
Under Penal Code section 496, “receiving” property means acquiring possession of the property. Put another way, “receiving” means you have the property in your physical possession or constructive possession. Note here that, for purposes of Penal Code section 496, you need not be the only person who possesses the property. Another person can co-possess the property with you.
Also note that you need not physically possess the property. The property can be in your constructive possession, which means that you have control of the property even though the property is not in your immediate possession. For example, Joe robs a jewelry store and stores the merchandise in a warehouse far away from his place of residence. Joe is considered in constructive possession of the property because, even though the property is not in his immediate possession at any given moment, he has control over it. Now imagine if the owner of the warehouse, Jack, agrees to store the jewelry for Joe even though he knows that the jewelry was stolen. Although Jack would claim no ownership over the jewelry, his decision to hold the property for Jack makes him in immediate and constructive possession of the property. Jack in this scenario could also be charged with receiving stolen property under Penal Code section 496.
The property was “stolen”
Property that was obtained by robbery, larceny, grand theft, extortion, embezzlement, or any other theft-related crime is considered “stolen.” For example, Jill is the bookkeeper for a construction company. Over the course of time, she creates fake overtime sheets for the employees and collects the money on the overtime. She uses the money to put the down-payment to a house purchased from Jack, who is aware that Jill embezzled this money. Because the money was received via a stolen source (i.e., embezzlement), it is considered stolen property. And because Jack knew about the source of the money, he can be charged with receiving stolen property.
Now consider the following scenario: Jill’s ex-husband, Joe, committed lewd act on a minor. Jill knows about the act. Jill calls Joe and threatens to report him to the police unless he pays her a million dollars. Joe agrees and pays Jill a million dollars. Jill then uses this money to pay Jack the down payment to a house. Jack knows the source of the money. Because Jill obtained the money by extorting Joe, the money is considered “stolen” because in essence it was obtained without Joe’s consent. Because Jack was aware of this fact, Jack can be charged with receiving of stolen property.
You “knew” that the property was stolen
For the prosecutor to prove you guilty of receiving stolen property under Penal Code section 496, he or she must prove that you “knew” that the property was stolen. In the examples above, Jack knew that the money Jill used for down payment was obtained by stolen means. Therefore, Jack is guilty of receiving stolen property. If Jack was not aware of where Jill had obtained the money for the down payment, then Jack cannot be found guilty of receiving stolen property.
You “knew” that the property was in your possession
You cannot be found guilty of receiving stolen property under Penal Code section 496 unless you knew that the property was in your possession. Consider the following example: Jack robes a jewelry store and steals a diamond necklace. He stores the necklace in a car that he shares with his wife. When Jill, his wife, is pulled over in that same car, the officers discover the diamond necklace in the glove compartment of the car. Jill had no knowledge of the existence of this diamond necklace, let alone that it was in her car. Jill is therefore not guilty of receiving stolen property.
PENALTIES FOR RECEIVING STOLEN PROPERTY UNDER PENAL CODE SECTION 496
Receiving stolen property under Penal Code section 496 is a wobbler, which means that it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony depending the particulars of the case and your criminal history. If, however, the total value of the property was $950.00 or less, then a charge under section 496 is always prosecuted as a misdemeanor.
If convicted of a misdemeanor receiving stolen property under Penal Code section 496, you face up to one year in county jail, up to one thousand dollars in fines, and summary probation. Summary probation is informal probation, which means that you need not report to a probation officer.
If convicted of a felony receipt of stolen property, you face 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years of incarceration, up to $10,000 in fines, and felony formal probation. In this type of probation, you have to report regularly to a probation officer.
Receiving stolen property under Penal Code section 546 is considered a “crime of moral turpitude”—i.e., a crime involving lying and deceit. Therefore, if you are convicted of code section 546 as a noncitizen, you face immigration consequences in addition to the above penalties. These consequences can include a bar to citizenship, reentry to the US, adjustment of status, and deportation. If you are not a US citizen and you have been charged with a receiving stolen property under Penal Code section 496, make sure to consult a criminal defense attorney who understands the immigration consequences of a plea to section 496 and who can advise you accordingly.
DEFENSES TO RECEIVING STOLEN PROPERTY UNDER PENAL CODE SECTION 496
There are a variety of defenses to receiving stolen property under Penal Code section 496. The particular defense that applies to your case depends on the particular circumstances of your case. The following are some common defenses to the charge:
You did not know that the property was stolen
You cannot be found guilty of receiving stolen property if you had no knowledge that the property was stolen. Often, prosecutors infer knowledge from what they believe are suspicious circumstances that do not unequivocally indicate that the defendant actually knew about the source of the property. Speculation is not enough. Whatever facts or circumstances that form the prosecutor’s belief must lead to a conclusion beyond a reasonable doubt that you actually knew the property was stolen.
You did not know that the property was in your possession
The prosecutor must also prove that you actually knew that the property was in your possession. If you had no knowledge of the presence of the property, you cannot be found guilty of receiving stolen property under Penal Code section 496.
At the time that you received the stolen property, you had the intention of returning it to the police or to the rightful owner
For example, Jill discovers that her husband, Joe, has stored a stolen diamond necklace in the glove compartment of her car. Jill reports the theft to the police and returns to them the diamond necklace. Jill had no intention of retaining the stolen property. She therefore cannot be found guilty of receiving stolen property under Penal Code section 496.
HOW CAN THE LOS ANGELES CRIMINAL ATTORNEY HELP
Actual Case: In People v. JR (case number not disclosed per client’s request), Mr. R, an illegal immigrant, was charged with receiving stolen property under Penal Code section 496(a). Mr. R’s wife, Rosario, worked for a Los Angeles school district. The school had given her a series of outdated computers to store in the trunk of her truck for later transportation to another school that could use the computers. Rosario transported the computers to the garage of a home that she shared with Mr. R. She did not tell Mr. R any information about the computers. One day, when Rosario was not home, Mr. R noticed the computers in the garage. He assumed that Rosario’s school had given her the computers for her own use or disposal. Otherwise, why would Rosario store the computers in the garage? Mr. R then attempted to sell the computers on the streets. He was arrested and prosecuted for receipt of stolen property. At Mr. R’s preliminary hearing, Negin argued that Mr. R had no actual knowledge that the computers did not belong to his wife. Convinced, the judge dismissed the case against Mr. R.
Our strategy: Negin Yamini thoroughly investigates the facts of your case and attacks the prosecution’s theory of the case from any and all angles. As in the example above, Negin does not buy into the prosecutor’s mere speculation and hazy inferences. Negin conducts her own fact finding to divulge the holes and weaknesses in the prosecutor’s assessment of the case.