The Meaning of Receiving Stolen Property under the California Law
Legally, three elements are considered when defining this act. The prosecution lays its argument on the elements below and if the judge is satisfied, a conviction follows. These elements include:
- You received, bought, sold, aided the sale, or concealed the illegal acquisition of a given property,
- When you acquired the property, you knew it was obtained by extortion or theft, and
- You had knowledge of the property’s presence.
According to the penal code 496a, the property belongs to you once you possess and fully control it. Ideally, the theory doesn’t apply in all circumstances since a single property can belong to more than one party. However, the baseline is that you are part of the property owners. Surprisingly, even virtual property is considered personal property.
On the other hand, all property acquired through burglary, robbery, embezzlement or fraud is treated as stolen property. The property can as well be taken to be acquired by extortion if it was acquired from another party without their consent. If the consent was given under duress, the defendant still suffers an extortion charge.
If you acquired the property and you intend to return it to the rightful owner or you purchase something without knowing whether it was stolen, then this is not punishable. However, you require to prove to the court that you were not aware of the same, and if the court is satisfied with your claim, you are set free.
Under the statute that governs the offense of ‘receiving stolen property,’ it is illegal to aid the withholding of property with full knowledge that it was acquired through unscrupulous means. However, only after you attempt to fully control the property does the case becomes an offense. Otherwise, benefiting from the property without having control over it is allowed by the law.
Below are examples of people who can be prosecuted for receiving stolen property:
- A woman helping her boyfriend or spouse to hide stolen money from a raid, knowing well the source of the money;
- A broker who buys and sells used electronics, for example, obtaining stolen computers with missing serial numbers without asking the seller why the serial numbers are missing.
Common Cases of Receiving Stolen Property
Business owners receiving stolen property: Certain businesses expose their proprietors to a huge risk of convictions for stolen property under the penal code 496a. For instance, if you are involved in the meet and swap business where you exchange personal property with given items, chances of being convicted are high, especially if:
- The moment you acquired the goods, you had a chance to inquire whether the seller was the legal owner of the product,
- You didn’t make such inquiries before swapping the goods.
Receiving different stolen items: You may ask, do I face multiple counts of receiving stolen items when I have different stolen items? Yes. Under the PC 496 (a), every stolen item obtained is treated separately from the other.
Penalties of Receiving Stolen Property
In California, receiving or possessing stolen property is a wobbler and can either be a felony or a misdemeanor. If the property in question has a value of nine hundred and fifty dollars or less, it qualifies to be a misdemeanor.
Some of the misdemeanor penalties under PC 496a include; a one-year jail term in a county jail or a one thousand dollars fine. On the other hand, some of the penalties for felony include three years, two years or sixteen months in county jail and/or a fine of up to ($10,000) ten thousand dollars.
Apart from the legal penalties stated above, anyone that is convicted with obtaining stolen property is likely to face the following additional penalties:
- Difficulties acquiring loan financing or credit
- Victim’s compensation for all losses incurred from the theft
- Changes to your immigration status
- Being unable to maintain state licenses
The Immigration effects of Receiving Stolen Property Conviction
Non-citizens can compromise their immigration rights once they are found guilty of the offense. This is because the crime is considered a crime of moral turpitude and in such a case, the government doesn’t trust your residence anymore.
Additionally, your rights to obtain a green card are limited and also entry to the country or obtaining U.S. citizenship by naturalization is not possible. On extreme cases, a conviction could lead to deportation. To help alleviate your case from getting to such levels, you require the services of a professional attorney that is conversant with the immigration laws in relation to obtaining stolen property.
The prosecution can decide to press this case with several other related cases to increase the penalties. Some of the most common related offenses include:
Petty and Grand Theft
These are two separate offenses under the penal codes 488 and 487 respectively. If the property in question is worth below $950, the offense is treated as petty theft. On the other hand, taking property whose value exceeds $950 would be treated as grand theft. Furthermore, these two forms of theft are grouped into different subcategories depending on how the item was acquired, for instance, theft by larceny, theft by trick, and theft by embezzlement.
Generally, theft-related crimes have closely related elements of the crime; so it’s easy to see why a prosecutor would press both charges for receiving stolen property and grand/ petty theft against you.
Under the penal code 503, embezzlement involves misappropriation of property by an entrusted person. The California Law treats this as either grand theft or petty theft depending on the value of the embezzled property.
In most theft-related cases, threats may be used to gain property ownership illegally. In such a case, the prosecution escalates the charges and combines them with extortion. The penal code 518 of California describes extortion as the illegal acquisition of property or money using force or threats.
Keeping Stolen Property
You would be violating penal code 485 keeping of stolen property law if you keep property that:
- You are in a position of knowing the owner of the property, and
- You didn’t take an initiative to find the owner.
This crime attracts similar penalties to those of petty or grand theft.
Most people confuse keeping stolen property with acquiring stolen property; but from the elements of each crime, keeping stolen property charges are based on the fact that you didn’t take any initiative to find the property owner. Thus, you may face the two charges if the latter element is present in your charges for receiving stolen property.
- Lack of any Information about the Stolen Property
The prosecution should prove that you were aware that the property in question was illegally acquired. Once the court determines that you knew the property status, for instance, through a written statement from the offender, then you may be guilty. The prosecution may ask to deduce your knowledge from circumstances which can be proved by state.
If there is suspicion about the circumstances of acquiring stolen goods, then circumstantial evidence may be used to convict a person of receiving stolen goods. For example, if your classmate came to school one day with expensive watches and asked you to buy a watch for a price that was far below the watch’s market value, the law deduces that you knew that the watch was stolen. If the classmate bought and sold watches at a discount price regularly, it might be sane for the victims to make the assumption that those were not stolen items.
- Lack of Intent
For you to be charged with receiving stolen property, the prosecution has to prove that you knew the property was stolen, you facilitated the stealing, or had intentions of receiving the same stolen property. If you took the property with intentions to return, then you are innocent. This is the basis of this defense. The defendant must be willing to refund the acquired goods to the rightful owner at the moment he or she takes its possession. If the defendant took the property without intending to give it back, but later has a change of mind, this defense is not applicable. The same applies if the defendant made a promise to return the property to the legal owners but fails to do so.
- You didn’t own the Property
You may decide to buy a good from your friend, for instance, a computer, and you plan to pick it the following day. However, before going to pick it, another friend informs you of a stolen computer with similar physical features as the one you want to buy. After confirming the allegations, you immediately dismiss the purchase agreement and ask for a refund. In this case, you didn’t take possession or exercise control over the computer. Hence, you’re not liable for any theft-related charge.
- The Property Isn’t Stolen
Sometimes, someone can allege that you stole their property yet they still possess it. The prosecution has to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the property in question was indeed stolen and that the defendant claimed its ownership. Without proving this, your case should be dismissed.
- Legal Possession of the property
You may be sure that you legally obtained the property in question. If so, the ‘claim of right’ defense will work appropriately for you. However, this defense requires a proper presentation to enable you to prove it to the courts. The court tries its best to determine your awareness level while purchasing the property and whether you legally acquired the property. To enhance the validity of the defense, you must prove that the property was acquired openly.
- Illegal Searches
The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution protects citizens from illegal searches by any officer. If in your defense you prove that the investigators searched your premise without a warrant for arrest, then your case would be dismissed.
- Miranda Violation
Before subjecting you to custodial interrogation, the arresting officers must dictate the Miranda rights to you. You need the authority to speak with regards to the law, or you can as well decide to keep quiet to avoid self-incrimination. If this doesn’t happen, all the statements provided during the arrest are considered null and void.
- False Accusations
Sometimes, the evidence provided might be false and hence, cannot guarantee convictions. It is the responsibility of the defense team to unravel the truth and save your case.
- Questionable Health and Mental Conditions
For you to be convicted of receiving stolen property, the prosecution must prove that you knew of the property’s illegal possession. Bad health/ mental conditions are enough proof that you were not in the right mental state while possessing the stolen property. Your medical records would be crucial to ascertain this claim.
Find a Long Beach Criminal Attorney Near Me
Receiving stolen property is one of the most mistaken identity crimes. It is very difficult to determine the authenticity of a particular good and hence, most innocent people find themselves being charged with an offense they were not privy to. We understand that you might be stressed out on what to do next to prove your innocence. Thus, we welcome you to contact the Long Beach Criminal Attorney to evaluate your case and help you to mount a strong defense against the allegations. You can reach our Long Beach Criminal Defense Attorney by calling 562-308-7807. Call us today to expedite the defense against your case.