California Receiving Stolen Property Law

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 Is It Illegal to Receive Stolen Property in California?

Absolutely. In California, receiving stolen items is a criminal offense. If someone knowingly takes possession of property that has been unlawfully taken from someone else, they can face criminal charges.

Knowing that Something was Stolen

Understanding the illicit nature of goods is central to the crime of receiving stolen property. Knowledge, in this context, refers to a person’s awareness or belief that the items in their possession were taken unlawfully. This element is crucial because the law aims to differentiate between innocent bystanders and those knowingly participating in criminal activities.

There are two key dimensions to consider:

  • Actual Knowledge: This is when the individual is directly aware that the goods they have were stolen. For instance, if someone says, “I just stole this. Do you want it?” and you accept, you have actual knowledge.
  • Constructive Knowledge: Even if you didn’t know outright that an item was stolen, the circumstances might have been such that any reasonable person would have suspected it. For example, if you purchase a brand-new, high-end laptop for a fraction of its market price from someone in a back alley, it’s arguable that you should have “reasonably known” that the item might be stolen.

Sometimes, the context can give away clues. Unusual behavior by the seller, a price that’s too good to be true, or the absence of essential documents for an item (like a receipt or ownership papers) can all raise red flags.
However, merely being in possession of stolen goods without the requisite knowledge doesn’t fit the bill for this crime. If, for instance, a friend left a stolen item at your home without your knowledge, and you were unaware of its origins, the element of knowledge isn’t satisfied.

It’s the prosecution’s responsibility to prove this knowledge beyond a reasonable doubt in court. In many cases, this makes it a critical point of contention, and why having a good defense can be instrumental in these situations.

Will I Inevitably Be Found Guilty of Receiving Stolen Goods if Charged With the Crime?

No. Being charged with a crime does not automatically mean a conviction. A charge is an accusation, and every person arrested has the right to defend themselves in court. Many factors will influence the outcome, including the quality of the evidence against you and the defenses your attorney presents.

What Is the Penalty for Receiving Stolen Property in California?

The penalty for receiving stolen property in California depends on whether the offense is charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. According to California Penal Code Section 496 (a) PC, receiving stolen property is a wobbler offense, meaning it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the case’s circumstances and the defendant’s criminal history.

If convicted of a misdemeanor, the penalty is up to one year in county jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both. If convicted of a felony, the penalty is 16 months, two years, or three years in state prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both. In addition, the defendant may be placed on probation, either formal or informal, and may have to pay restitution to the victim.

If I’m a Vendor or a Business Owner, Will I Receive the Same Criminal Punishment?

Business owners and vendors can face the same criminal charges as individuals if they knowingly sell stolen goods. However, they might also face additional penalties. These include the loss of their business license or being subjected to more significant fines due to the commercial nature of their involvement.

What Are the Defenses for the Charge of Receiving Stolen Property?

Defending yourself against the charge of receiving stolen property is pivotal to protecting your reputation and avoiding legal penalties. The defenses available are intricate, but with the right context, they can be pivotal in your defense strategy.

Lack of Knowledge

Knowledge, or the lack thereof, plays a central role in the crime of receiving stolen property. To be convicted, you must have been aware that the items in your possession were stolen. For example, if someone were to gift you an expensive item, and you had no reason to suspect it was stolen, you might genuinely be unaware of its illicit origins. However, the challenge lies in the surrounding circumstances. The prosecution will often attempt to argue that there were enough indications or reasons for the accused to suspect the item’s stolen nature.

Intention to Return the Stolen Property

This defense is based on the premise that the accused had the stolen items because they intended to return them to their rightful owner. It suggests that there was no intention to benefit from the stolen goods unlawfully.

Consider a situation where someone hands over stolen items to you, confessing their act. If you took those items with the primary intent of returning them or informing the authorities, this defense could be applicable. Yet, verbal claims might not suffice; evidence of efforts to contact the owner or inform the police can fortify this defense.

Rightful Ownership or Valid Claim

In some cases, individuals might believe they have a legitimate claim to the property, suggesting they thought they were its rightful owner or had a valid reason to possess it. An instance might be a person buying an item from a store, unaware that it had been stolen.

Being later accused of possessing stolen property, they could argue they believed they were involved in a legitimate transaction, especially if they could produce a receipt or similar proof. However, tangible evidence, such as purchase documents or testimonies, is crucial to substantiate this defense.

The success of these defenses largely depends on the specifics of each case and the quality of evidence. For tailored guidance, seeking the advice of a California lawyer is highly advisable.

Sincere Intentions

In some cases, a person might receive stolen items without realizing they were stolen and with sincere intentions. For instance, buying an item from a seemingly legitimate source without any hint of its illicit origins.

What Is the Statute of Limitations for Receiving Stolen Property in California?

If the property is valued at $950 or less, the offense is a misdemeanor, and the statute of limitations is one year from the date of the offense. If the property is valued at more than $950, or if the property is a firearm, the offense is a felony, and the statute of limitations is three years from the date of the offense. However, if the property is valued at more than $100,000, the statute of limitations is four years from the date of the offense.

Are There Any Connected Crimes?

Yes, related crimes include theft, burglary, robbery, and fraud. If a person is involved in multiple facets of the crime, like stealing and then selling the stolen items, they might face charges for both offenses.

Should I Get Legal Representation?

If you find yourself facing charges for receiving stolen property, it’s essential to consult with a stolen property lawyer. A seasoned attorney can evaluate your case, advise on the best course of action, and advocate on your behalf in court.

To find a trusted California criminal lawyer tailored to your needs, LegalMatch is here to connect you with the right professional for your situation. Don’t face these challenges alone; let LegalMatch assist you in finding the best representation.


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